COP17 hopes surge as China commits to climate pledge

The Durban ICC was abuzz on Monday morning with talk that China is ready to commit to a legally binding agreement on climate change. This would signal a sea change in the direction of the climate change negotiations under way in Durban, which activists say are being hindered by the United States.

The head of the Chinese delegation, Xie Zhenhua, made the pledge in a media briefing on Monday.

All eyes will now turn to the United States delegation, which has been accused of obstructing the negotiations.

The US has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has always maintained that it would not do so unless major emitters such as China followed suit.

On Monday morning, Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo said civil society organisations were coming to hold the view that the US should remove itself from the negotiation process.

Naidoo said the US delegation has been trying to forestall the negotiations and has been pushing for a binding agreement to be considered only after 2020. “If the US cannot see the way forward, we’re going to be calling on them to step out of the way and let the rest of the world move forward,” he said.

EU concerns
But European Union commissioner for climate change Connie Hedegaard has warned that more clarity is needed on China’s intentions. She implied that any commitment from China would only be significant if it meant that China was ready to cut its emissions.

“China has always been in favour of a legally binding outcome,” said Hedegaard. “The key question is, will a legally binding deal mean that China is also legally bound? That is the key point and that is where we still need a lot of clarification.”

The EU is set to hold bilateral discussions with China later in the day to discuss the signals from China that it is ready for a legally binding outcome.

China, with its rapidly growing economy, is the world’s top carbon emitter, followed closely by the United States. Although China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, it has no obligations to rein in its emissions. As a developing country, it is required only to make voluntary commitments to reducing emissions.

The road ahead
The EU is calling for a second commitment period to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in a year, as part of a transition to a new global agreement that will include all the major economies, in the near future. It also wants a set of clear deadlines — a so-called “road map” — for developing this global agreement.

This EU road map, which has been circulating since the beginning of the negotiations, has been gaining support, especially among the least developed countries and on Saturday entered into the official discussion texts.

Hedegaard on Monday called for more support for the EU road map, saying “Europe came to Durban with ambition but Europe only accounts for 11% of global emissions —. It’s hard to see how anyone can see that as a very big success for climate.”

The EU is the third largest carbon emitter. It has committed to a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, increased to 30% if other countries also commit to reducing emissions.

Still, civil society organisations such as Greenpeace say the EU can do more. Within the EU, certain individual countries such as Denmark have higher national targets of up to 40%.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.


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