China Spurns Pledges in Climate-Change Pact, U.S. Says

China Spurns Pledges in Climate-Change Pact, U.S. Says
Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change. Source: Center for American Progress via Bloomberg

China is ignoring pledges made under a global-warming accord reached last year after a face-to-face meeting between President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the chief U.S. climate negotiator said.

Chinese officials have acted as though the agreement “never happened,” Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, said in a speech today at the University of Michigan Law School at Ann Arbor. China in December agreed to the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding pact that aims to limit emissions blamed for global warming, he said.

“They have argued, despite the black-and-white language of the Copenhagen Accord agreed to by their own and other leaders, that China did not, in fact, agree in the accord to implement the actions it submitted,” Stern said. “In their view, they merely listed those actions on an informational basis, a kind of global ‘FYI’ with no political commitment to implement them.”

Talks to control global warming stalled this week in Tianjin, in northern China, among negotiators from about 175 governments. China and other developing markets have accused industrialized nations of failing to honor their commitments to curb greenhouse gases.

“Our intervention is not to block discussions,” Huang Huikang, China’s special representative for climate change talks, told reporters today. “We just want to keep the group’s discussion the right way. The key issue is the lack of substantive progress on the developed countries’ side.”

China has said it will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy, or emissions per unit of gross domestic product, 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020, said Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

‘Legally Binding’

“I don’t know what the grounds are” for the Obama administration to say China is “not being serious about its commitment,” Meyer said in an interview. “They agreed to carry out that pledge. They’re not willing to make that legally binding.”

The Copenhagen Accord, named for the Danish capital that hosted United Nations talks in December, includes commitments from industrialized and developing nations that aim to keep the global temperature rise since industrialization to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Nations also agreed to negotiate independent monitoring to verify their commitments. China has historically balked at such measures, Meyer said.

“The agreement on paper makes no sense unless you have actual guidelines,” for verification, Meyer said.

Leaders’ Accord

The accord was reached Dec. 18 after Obama held last-minute talks with Wen, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South Africa President Jacob Zuma as two weeks of formal negotiations in Copenhagen drew to a close. China and India signed in March, making the world’s largest emitters of gases tied to global warming subject to the deal.

Stern’s comments signal a tough U.S. stand at a UN climate summit that start Nov. 29 and continue until Dec. 10 in Cancun, Mexico, Meyer said. Without progress on steps to verify emissions cuts, the U.S. may hold up decisions sought by developing countries on protecting rainforests or financing efforts to adapt to climate change.

The U.S. is standing by its Copenhagen pledge to reduce global-warming emissions about 17 percent by 2020, Stern said. Obama hasn’t said how the U.S. will reach that goal after Congress failed to enact a mandatory cap on greenhouse gases.

‘Not Very Impressed’

“China is not very impressed by what the U.S. is doing,” Meyer said. China has been “more clear on the steps they will take to meet their target by 2020 than the U.S. is on Obama’s pledge to meet the 17 percent cut without legislation.”

The U.S. and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have deadlocked on issues including climate-change finance, pollution-reduction goals and verification of emissions cuts. The U.S. declared the Copenhagen Accord a success because China and major developing countries agreed to make commitments to limit emissions.

“You cannot build a system premised on the notion that China should be treated the same as Chad, when China is now the world’s largest emitter,” Stern said. “As a matter of political reality, we could get no support in the United States, notably in Congress, for a climate agreement that required action of us but not from China and the other emerging markets.”

Progress toward adopting a treaty limiting climate change will depend on whether countries stick to goals outlined in the Copenhagen Accord, Stern said Oct. 1.

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