China and US vow to cut down on emissions

The US and China, the world's two largest polluters, vowed yesterday in New York to break the deadlock over reducing carbon emissions, paving the way for strict new limits on oil and other fossil fuels.

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The US and China, the world's two largest polluters, vowed yesterday in New York to break the deadlock over reducing carbon emissions, paving the way for strict new limits on oil and other fossil fuels. Barack Obama, the US president, told the UN that after years of opposing painful emissions cuts, Americans "understand the gravity of the threat" and "are determined to act".

Hu Jintao, the Chinese premier, called global warming caused by man-made emissions "a major challenge facing all countries", and outlined a detailed plan to cut back emissions growth in his country's economy, the world's largest source of carbon. For the UAE and other major oil exporters, the size of emissions cuts and industries targeted in a new agreement will shape their economic futures. If negotiators are able to create incentives for developing countries to shoulder part of the burden of reducing emissions, oil will have a longer future as a key energy source, said Federica Bietta, the deputy director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, an intergovernmental group of 40 developing countries pushing for deep emissions cuts.

"It's going to give you [the UAE] a little more time for new technology to be developed," she said. Mr Hu said China would work to cut the carbon intensity, or amount of emissions generated by each unit of GDP, "by a notable margin" by 2020, as well as boost to 15 per cent the proportion of energy coming from non-fossil fuel sources. Mr Hu also promised that China would increase the size of forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, by 40 million hectares.

"Fulfilling our respective responsibilities should be at the core of our effort," he said. "China stands ready to work with all countries." The top UN climate official, Yvo de Boer, told reporters on Monday that Mr Hu's proposal would "take China to be the world leader on addressing climate change", Reuters reported. Leaders from 100 countries gathered at the UN yesterday to seek common ground on a new climate change agreement before negotiators sit down to write a treaty in December in Copenhagen.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, urged leaders of industrialised countries to take the first step to reduce emissions, calling a failure to reach agreement in Copenhagen "morally inexcusable". Negotiators have been divided over the role developing countries should play in reducing emissions: leaders in China and India, for example, have resisted mandatory cuts, saying they would unfairly constrain economic growth, while leaders in developed countries say an agreement would not work without guaranteed cuts from developing countries.

Mr Obama yesterday said that industrialised countries needed to take the lead on cutting emissions and developing countries needed to "commit to strong measures at home". "Those rapidly growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well," he said. The push for a new consensus on climate change was met by support from more than 600 large corporations, including DP World, the Dubai-based ports operator, and major oil firms, that issued a statement calling on world leaders to reach a "sufficiently ambitious, effective and globally equitable deal".

Despite the positive sentiments voiced yesterday, negotiators said a final deal still remained in doubt. On Monday, Jose Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said in a speech he was "very worried by the prospects for Copenhagen". "This may not be a simple negotiating stand-off that we can fix next year," he said, according to a transcript of the speech. "It risks being an acrimonious collapse, delaying action against climate change perhaps for years."

Ms Bietta noted that months before the start of the Copenhagen talks, negotiators were still looking for leadership from a major developed country, such as the US or Japan. "The position of developed countries on both the reductions and the finance is very weak," she said. "We would prefer not to have a weak agreement in the short run and just wait a little bit to have a stronger agreement that will actually have an impact."

The Coalition for Rainforest Nations backs a proposal for richer nations to pay poor ones to preserve forests as part of a climate change treaty. Forest preservation and better land management in developing countries could provide up to 25 per cent of the emissions cuts required by 2020, Ms Bietta said.