US, China edge toward each other at UN climate talks

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Large pieces of a climate deal fell into place Thursday with new offers from the U.S. and China, but other tough issues remained before President Barack Obama and other leaders can sign off on a political accord to contain the threat of an overheated world.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Large pieces of a climate deal fell into place Thursday with new offers from the U.S. and China, but other tough issues remained before President Barack Obama and other leaders can sign off on a political accord to contain the threat of an overheated world.

An announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States would contribute to a climate change fund amounting to $100 billion a year by 2020 was quickly followed by an offer from China to open its books on carbon emissions to international review.

The U.S. delegation did not immediately react to the offer by Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei. But it went a long way toward the U.S. demand that China report on its actions to limit the growth of Beijing’s carbon emissions and allow experts to go over its data.

The sudden concessions on the eve of Friday’s final session lifted hopes that the 193-nation conference could reach a framework agreement that could be refined into a legal accord next year on limiting greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change.

Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao were to join more than 110 world leaders for the last scheduled day of the conference, which for most of its two weeks was embroiled in angry exchanges, a partial boycott by African countries and another entire day wasted in procedural wrangling. It’s also possible that once the world leaders depart, the talks could continue at the ministerial level and stretch late into the night and early Saturday.

A pair of Greenpeace activists crashed a Thursday night banquet hosted by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe for the world leaders already in town. The couple, dressed in formal wear, unfurled two banners reading “Politicians Talk, Leaders Act” as they walked on the red carpet reception line, and were dragged from the hall by security guards.

The conference seems likely to fall short of the goal set by many developing countries for a deal that would be legally binding on all parties and guarantee the kind of dramatic emissions reductions by the industrial world that threatened nations feel are necessary.

Clinton’s announcement on funding was widely welcomed. Yoshiko Kijima, a senior Japanese negotiator, said it sent a strong signal by Obama “that he will persuade his own people that we need to show something to developing countries. … I really respect that.”

Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren said Clinton added “political momentum,” and India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh called it “a good step forward.”

Independent agencies also praised the move. “I think we’re closer now than we have been in two years,” said Tom Brookes, an analyst for the European Climate Foundation.

“It shows that when the U.S. moves, China moves,” said Kim Carstensen, the climate director for the World Wildlife Fund.

The White House was lowering expectations ahead of Obama’s trip.

“Coming back with an empty agreement would be far worse than coming back empty-handed,” presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Neither the U.S. nor China raised its commitment on emissions. Clinton repeated the U.S. would cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, and China said its voluntary emissions target was nonnegotiable. It announced last month it would cut its “carbon intensity,” or the amount of emissions in relation to production, by 40 to 45 per cent.

An internal calculation by the United Nations, obtained by The Associated Press, said pledges made so far by both industrial and developing countries would mean a 3-degree Celsius (4.8-degree Fahrenheit) temperature rise. A panel of U.N. scientists has said that any rise above 2 degrees C (3.6-degree F) could lead to a catastrophic sea level rise threatening islands and coastal cities, kill off many species of animals and plants, and alter the agricultural economies of many countries.

But the U.S.-China moves could prompt the European Union to raise its emissions commitment to a 30 per cent reduction by 2020 from 1990 levels, and similarly inspire Japan and Australia to lock into the upper end of their previously announced targets — 25 per cent each.

Clinton said the U.S. agreement to the annual transfer of $100 billion to developing countries was contingent on reaching a broader agreement that covers the “transparency” of China’s measures to limit heat-trapping gases.

“We think this agreement has interlocking pieces, all of which must go together,” Clinton said, accusing China of backsliding on deals reached in closed meetings earlier this year. “It would be hard to imagine, speaking for the United States, that there could be the level of financial commitment that I have just announced in the absence of transparency from the second-biggest emitter — and now I guess the first-biggest emitter.”

He, the Chinese official who spoke in the same press room a few hours later, said Beijing had no legal obligation to verify its emissions actions, but was not afraid of supervision or responsibility.

“We will enhance and improve our national communication” to the U.N. on its emissions, He said. China also was willing to provide explanations and clarification on its reports.

“The purpose is to improve transparency,” He said, adding that Beijing was ready to take part in “dialogue and co-operation that is not intrusive and doesn’t infringe on China’s sovereignty.”

Negotiating committees worked through the day and were expected to continue late into the night on an agreement.

Yet to be decided was how the huge sums of money flowing from rich to poor countries would be handled, and whether a new multinational body should be created to distribute the funds. Dessima Williams of Grenada, who chairs an alliance of small island states, said Obama telephoned her prime minister Wednesday to discuss the governance of the bulging climate fund.

The White House officials said the biggest sticking point in the talks was the form of the final accord, and whether it will be legally binding on everyone.

Developing countries insist Kyoto be renewed and extended while a new pact is drawn up to include the U.S. and others. The U.S. does not want its emissions targets to be binding in an international treaty.

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Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, John Heilprin, Charles J. Hanley, Michael Casey and Karl Ritter contributed to this report.

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Find behind-the-scenes information, blog posts and discussion about the Copenhagen climate conference at http://www.facebook.com/theclimatepool, a Facebook page run by AP and an array of international news agencies. Follow coverage and blogging of the event on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/AP—ClimatePool

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