China Faults Japan, Europe on Pollution at UN Talks

China singled out Japan and the European Union for failing to take more dramatic action against carbon pollution, signaling a rift at United Nations talks for a global treaty limiting fossil fuel emissions.

Su Wei, who is China’s lead climate negotiator at the UN talks in Warsaw today, said reports that Japan will scale back its ambitions to cut greenhouse gases are deeply concerning. He said the 28-nation EU is on target to surpass its goal and ought to be pledging more action.

“I don’t have any words to describe my dismay at that announcement forthcoming,” Su told reporters in Warsaw yesterday, speaking of the Japanese announcement. On Europe, he said, “There’s no ambition at all. They talk about ratcheting up ambition, but rather they would have to ratchet up to ambition from zero ambition.”

The comments indicate the depth of distrust developing nations including China have toward industrialized nations at the talks. The richer countries promised in 1997 to scale back the emissions blamed for damaging the Earth’s atmosphere by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. While preliminary data indicate they’ve mostly met those goals, they haven’t yet detailed steps beyond 2020 to scale back heat-trapping gases.

Japan on Friday is likely to announce it will aim to reduce greenhouse gases by 3.8 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, according to the environmental group WWF. That reduction would equate to a 3.1 percent increase since 1990, WWF said in a statement released in Warsaw. It estimates that Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 were 7 percent higher than in 1990. Japanese delegates in Warsaw couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.


“This move by Japan could have a devastating impact on the tone of discussion here in Warsaw,” said Naoyuki Yamagishi, WWF’s leader on climate and energy issues in Japan. “It could further accelerate the race to the bottom among other developed countries. The world needs decisive and immediate actions to raise ambition, not to lower ambition.”

Japan is at the heart of the talks because until a few years ago it was the second biggest economy behind the U.S. and because it hosted negotiations in Kyoto in 1997 that resulted in the only treaty limiting emissions.

China has surpassed the U.S. and Japan as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases since Kyoto, which didn’t include curbs on developing nations. In Warsaw, envoys from about 190 nations are putting in place the first building blocks of a treaty that would come into force in 2020 requiring all nations including China to limit fossil fuel emissions.

Japan’s Decision

Su, the Chinese delegate, also said he’s heard of the Japanese plan to scale back its ambitions. Japan closed almost all of its nuclear reactors following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, boosting its reliance on liquefied natural gas and coal for generating power.

“That’s not only a backward movement from the Kyoto Protocol, but also a startling backward movement from the commitments of the convention,” Su said, referring to a 1992 treaty setting out the framework for global climate talks. “It must honor its international obligations to take actions to reduce their emissions.”

The 1992 treaty enshrined the notion that richer nations should move first in limiting emissions and help poorer countries pay for alternatives to fossil fuels. The U.S. was among 195 nations to ratify that treaty.

Europe’s Promises

On Europe, Su noted that the bloc had promised to cut greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2020 and that it already has achieved an 18 percent reduction. EU officials have offered to increase that commitment to 30 percent if other nations also make similar reductions.

“Certainly they are going to over-achieve their target by 2020 because the target is so low,” Su said.

The EU said China’s remark diminishes the scale of change the bloc brought about in reducing emissions since 1990, and also overlooks the fact that recent reductions were due to an economic recession. Europe has been at the forefront of the global effort to scale back emissions and has established the biggest market for carbon offsets that are meant to prod industry into reducing pollutants.

“The comment fails to recognize the action we’ve taken,” Juergen Lefevere, deputy delegation chief for the European Commission, said today in an interview. “We’ve set a target, worked very hard to get there and now they’re saying you’re almost there, it can’t have been a very tough target.”

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