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China Stirs ‘Excited Buzz’ at UN Climate Talks, UN Envoy Says

China has triggered an “excited buzz” at a global warming conference in South Africa by setting out the conditions under which it might limit its pollution, the United Nations diplomat leading the talks said.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change, said China is making and implementing laws to reduce fossil fuel fumes. Envoys from Beijing today detailed conditions under which it would sign up to a legally binding goal for reducing emissions.

The comments indicate optimism among negotiators coordinating the talks in Durban, South Africa, that envoys may be able to bridge an impasse on when developing nations start curbing greenhouse gases. China wants new emissions cuts for industrial countries under the Kyoto Protocol in exchange for accepting a target. The European Union is demanding all nations work towards a deal as a prerequisite for its undertaking a second commitment under the protocol.

“If China moves, we’ll be able to see the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, we’ll be able to get the rest of the world committed to a road map which gets us to a single legally binding overarching agreement, so China’s position is absolutely critical,” U.K. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change said today in an interview in Durban.

China’s Xie Zhenhua told reporters today that the nation has five conditions that must be met before it accepts legally-binding targets. They include a new round of Kyoto targets for industrialized countries, and advances on climate aid and low-carbon technology-sharing.

Cards on the Table

“China is beginning to answer the question of how do we sign up to the second commitment period,” South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is presiding the talks for the host nation, told reporters. “It is laying its cards on the table. Other negotiators will be laying the cards on the table and work then gets escalated. And that is what makes us hopeful we are moving in the right direction.”

Todd Stern, the U.S. lead envoy on climate change, told reporters that all countries must be involved in a global deal that applies the “same legal force” to each country with “no trap doors” and “no conditionality.” He said he plans to discuss the Chinese remarks with Xie tomorrow.

“China has not been willing to do the kind of legally binding agreement that I’m talking about” in the past, Stern said, adding that he hasn’t spoken to Xie yet in Durban. “In order for there to be a legally binding agreement that makes sense, all the major players are going to have to be in.”

Slim Hopes

The comments from the U.S. and China, who between them account for more than 40 percent of global emissions, show there’s still a gap to close, according to Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions in Arlington, Virginia.

“Between the U.S. position and the China position there are slim hopes we could actually get to agreement on launching an immediate process toward a legally binding outcome,” Diringer said. “What might be a possible common ground, we hope, is that parties at least agree to the objective of binding outcomes.”

The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol limiting pollution in industrial nations, and President Barack Obama’s carbon cap-and-trade plan failed to pass congress.

J.M. Mauskar, the Indian government official leading his nation’s delegation at United Nations climate talks, yesterday rejected the EU plan of a road map leading to a new climate deal as a “quid-pro-quo.”

“India has really taken over from China as the key block in the process,” Mark Lynas, climate change adviser to Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed said today in an interview in Durban. “India and the U.S. seem to have formed an alliance of inaction. They’re both happy to filibuster the process for another 10 years.”

Lynas said deals in Durban could be reached on issues that “matter in the real world,” including technology, adaptation, finance, forests. “Unfortunately it looks like being held hostage to Kyoto.”

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