China pledges new fight against global warming

Plan expected today at UN climate session

President Hu Jintao will address the UN assembly. President Hu Jintao will address the UN assembly.
By John Heilprin
Associated Press / September 22, 2009

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UNITED NATIONS - China could steal the show today at the UN climate summit of 100 world leaders by unveiling plans to sharply step up its energy-saving programs to fight global warming.

President Hu Jintao, who is making his first appearance before the General Assembly this week, is expected to announce the new policies, including efforts to produce more efficient cars and power plants. India has also signaled that it wants to be an “active player’’ on climate change.

China’s ambition to develop its economy quickly but cleanly may soon vault it to “front-runner’’ status - far ahead of the United States - in curbing global warming, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said yesterday.

“China and India have announced very ambitious national climate change plans. In the case of China, so ambitious that it could well become the front-runner in the fight to address climate change,’’ Boer said. “The big question mark is the US.’’

The development would mark a dramatic turnabout in the international climate debate. The United States, under President George W. Bush’s administration, long cited inaction by China and India as the reason for rejecting mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases. Today’s meeting is intended to rally momentum for crafting a new global climate pact at Copenhagen in December. Bush rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for cutting global emissions of warming gases based on its impact on the US economy and exclusion of major developing nations like China and India, both major polluters.

Su Wei, director of China’s climate change department, pledged a “proactive’’ approach to make Copenhagen a success.

“China takes the threat of climate change very seriously and fully recognizes the urgency to take actions,’’ he said, flanked by top climate negotiators from the US, India and Denmark at a news conference yesterday.

Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, said his nation was also committed to reaching a global climate accord.

“India wants a deal at Copenhagen. And India is prepared to be an active player in working towards an agreement . . .. It is in our interests . . . because we are very climate-vulnerable,’’ Ramesh said.

Todd Stern, the top US climate envoy, said the Obama administration also is moving “full speed ahead’’ toward helping craft a deal. But with Congress moving slowly on a measure to curb emissions, the United States could soon find itself with little influence when 120 countries convene in Copenhagen.

China and the United States together account for about 40 percent of all the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other industrial warming gases.

Hu is expected to lay out new plans that focus on extending China’s energy-saving programs rather than committing to a cap on its greenhouse gases, at least not until the fast-growing nation reaches a higher level of development.

Analysts say they expect as a first step that China will announce targets for reducing the “intensity’’ of its carbon pollution - not shrinking emissions overall, but reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic growth.

For the past four years China has been cutting energy intensity and could include a new carbon intensity goal in a five-year plan for development until 2015. China already has said it is seeking to use 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

A key point of dispute remains whether developing countries would agree to be legally bound to a Copenhagen accord. The House passed a climate bill this summer that would set the first mandatory limits on greenhouse gases and impose trade penalties on countries that don’t cap their emissions.