China Sets Conditions for Binding Post-2020 Climate Deal

The Chinese flag flies above the People's Bank of China
The Chinese flag flies above the People's Bank of China in Beijing on Feb. 11, 2009. Photographer: Doug Kanter/Bloomberg

China set out its conditions for adopting a binding post-2020 greenhouse-gas commitment as part of a global deal, demanding an extension of current pledges by industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.

Developing nations should be allowed to stick to voluntary targets to limit pollution until a legally-binding treaty that could take effect after 2020, Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations climate talks, said after he arrived in Durban, South Africa, for the second week of the conference. China’s consent for the shift to mandatory goals also hinges on climate aid from richer countries and a review of actions taken by 2015, he said.

“If all the conditions are met, we’re open to the process,” Xie told a briefing today. “For the new framework after 2020, we must continue the Kyoto Protocol, there must be a second commitment period. If there’s no second commitment period it’s not meaningful for us to talk about new framework. This is the first condition.”

Envoys from 190 countries at United Nations global warming talks this week in Durban are working to develop further action on climate after the Kyoto Protocol’s limits on emissions expire next year. Kyoto imposed targets on industrial nations, leaving developing ones, including China, with voluntary measures.

Kyoto Pact

The U.S. never ratified Kyoto. Japan, Russia and Canada are refusing to sign up to further commitments under Kyoto. The European Union says it will only extend the pact if all other nations agree to a “road map” pointing toward a new treaty that would regulate emissions from both industrial and developing countries.

“The convention and the Kyoto Protocol are both legally binding, and now it’s time for us to see whether countries honor their commitments,” Xie said. “The problem we are facing now is whether we have implemented documents that we already had consensus on. If we fail to implement the commitments we have already agreed on, how can we build political trust among countries?”

China and other developing nations made non-binding pledges to reduce emissions at the UN talks in Cancun last year, where developed nations also made pledges that are voluntary. Su said it’s too early to say whether China would accept legally binding commitments after 2020.

‘First Time’

“That’s the first time that their conditions have been set so clearly,” said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe, a green lobby group. “Despite some reports that China may be softening its stance, Xie’s line was as hard as ever. That may be strong language before the high-level part, but for now it’s difficult to expect a compromise on the post-2012 framework.”

Other Chinese conditions include the start of a climate fund in Durban, fulfilment of a promise by developed nations to provide aid to poorer countries, transparency in actions to fight global warming, as well as accepting differing responsibilities for rich and poorer nations, said Xie, who’s vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission.

At the UN talks in Copenhagen two years ago, countries agreed to set up a fund to channel up to $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries adapt to the effects of climate change. They also promised $30 billion in so-called “fast-start” finance over the three years to 2012.

The high-level segment of the talks begins on Tuesday, when ministers and some heads of state arrive in Durban. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said she was happy with the progress made by negotiators to date.

“Their task is to narrow the range of options to give clear political choices to the ministers on Tuesday,” she told reporters today.

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