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EU Sees Chinese Climate Drive as U.S. Inaction Risks Deal Delay

China and other emerging nations are engaged in “encouraging” efforts to curb greenhouse gases, while the U.S. is blocking prospects for a global agreement, according to a European Union climate official.

The international debate on a climate-protection framework after the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 will heat up in the coming months as countries head for the next summit in Durban, South Africa, at the end of this year, said Jos Delbeke, director general for climate at the European Commission, the EU executive arm.

The U.S. is “walking away,” Delbeke told a conference in Brussels yesterday. “They are in the state of a relative denial about where they are. And we see exactly the opposite with the Chinese, which is very good. The Chinese in fact follow the reasoning of the Europeans.”

Global climate negotiations have stalled amid differences between industrialized and developing nations. The dim prospects for climate legislation in the U.S., where opponents of a cap-and-trade emissions program stopped President Barack Obama’s proposal for a national carbon market from passing Congress, are also hindering international climate action, Delbeke said.

“Energy efficiency and renewables have a different connotation in the U.S., and now that they have found shale gas, there’s again the illusion that energy is not scarce,” he said. “I think that marks a clear distinction between the U.S. on the one hand and almost the rest of the world that is scrambling for a limited amount of available energy resources.”

‘Something in Common’

China, the world’s largest energy consumer, aims to double gas’s share of energy consumption to 8 percent by 2015 while boosting the combined proportion of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear to 11 percent from 8 percent. It also plans to start an emissions trading system in six regions by 2015, Delbeke said.

“We have something in common with emerging economies,” Delbeke said. “We know that energy is scarce, that it can limit your economic development, that renewable energy and efficiency is not a theoretical notion but an essential for the survival of your economy.”

Delbeke said that the last round of climate talks in Bangkok earlier this month “did not go well” and negotiators are facing even a more a heated debate over the shape of a future deal in the coming months.

While China wants to stick with the model set by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which requires only developed countries to cut the greenhouse gases blamed for damaging the atmosphere, the U.S. says this is unacceptable. The U.S. has said it won’t sign a treaty unless the document binds all major emitters.

‘Unnecessary’ Treaty

Japan and Russia argued at the UN’s last round of treaty negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, that taking on new emissions reduction goals under the 1997 Kyoto deal would be pointless if the two biggest emitters, the U.S. and China, don’t have binding targets. The U.S. never ratified the treaty.

In the strongest criticism yet of the UN talks, Todd Stern, the lead U.S. climate negotiator, said April 6 that a binding treaty is “unnecessary” and may not be “doable.” The EU said it wants a single, binding agreement to reduce emissions worldwide and is open to extending the Kyoto Protocol and ironing out a new treaty.

“The comment by Todd Stern was not a very helpful one,” Delbeke said. “I think we shouldn’t be too hung up on the American statement. I’d rather concentrate on where are the emerging economies and where can we do some operational business with the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, where the increase of emissions will be situated.”

Global Links

Europe, which started the world’s biggest emissions trading system in 2005 to help meet its internal target to cut emissions by 20 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels, is hoping its cap-and-trade will become a cornerstone of an international carbon market.

The EU has said it will seek to link its program with other national or regional systems, which are already operating or being discussed in Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Switzerland. During her visit to the U.S. earlier this month, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard discussed the prospects for linking California’s emissions trading system with the European program.

“I think we’ll see a global carbon price emerging much sooner and for a much wider coverage compared to what we could have expected a couple of years ago,” Delbeke said.

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