US-China climate statement raises hopes, questions

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 1:46 AM

A joint statement by the U.S. and Chinese presidents on climate change is encouraging as pressure builds in the last few weeks before a 192-nation conference in Copenhagen, but the language leaves a lot unsaid, observers in both countries said Wednesday.

The world's two largest polluters talked Tuesday of a joint desire to tackle climate change, but failed to publicly address the root problems that could unravel a deal at the Dec. 7-18 conference _ mainly, how much each country can contribute to emissions cuts and how the world will pay for it.

The joint statement by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao has positive language about aiming for a comprehensive deal, "but it leaves a lot of room for different interpretations, ranging from a real ambitious climate rescue deal to another meaningless declaration," said Ailun Yang, climate campaign manager for Greenpeace China. "The real test is still at Copenhagen."

Three weeks remain before the global conference that aims for a deal to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrial countries to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

The Copenhagen agreement would require developing countries such as China to curb emissions growth as well.

In a joint statement, Obama and Hu said Copenhagen should produce a comprehensive agreement that would "include emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries."

Hu said nations would do their part "consistent with our respective capabilities," a reference to the now widely accepted view that developing nations like China should be required only to set goals for curbing emissions, not accept absolute targets.

Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, a charity group that promotes U.N. causes, praised the U.S.-China joint statement for saying a deal at Copenhagen should include emission reduction targets by developed countries, but he stressed the urgency of finding a final agreement.

"Reaching a deal in Copenhagen will be hard enough; leaving all the negotiations to the last minute could make it unachievable," he said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday.

Already, Obama administration officials acknowledge that the Copenhagen talks are not expected to produce a final legal agreement. White House aides said Sunday that a fully binding legal agreement would be put off until a December 2010 meeting in Mexico City.

The Kyoto pact expires at the end of 2012.

But the meeting between Obama and Hu could give important momentum to the last few weeks of negotiations before Copenhagen, observers said.

"It is important to put things in perspective and realize just how far we've come in one year, particularly that both the U.S. and China have elevated cooperation on climate change to the very highest levels of government," Barbara Finamore, China program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Wednesday.

The U.S. still has not committed to figures for its own emissions reductions or financing, with negotiators waiting until Congress completes domestic climate legislation.


Associated Press Writer Michael Casey in Bangkok contributed to this report.