Despite nonbinding accord, China lauds climate talks as significant

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the talks had “significant and positive’’ results. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the talks had “significant and positive’’ results. (Koichi Kamoshida/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Gillian Wong
Associated Press / December 21, 2009

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BEIJING - China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, yesterday lauded the outcome of a historic United Nations climate conference that ended with a nonbinding agreement that urges major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts - but does not require it.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the international climate talks that brought more than 110 leaders together in Copenhagen produced “significant and positive’’ results.

The Obama administration also defended the agreement yesterday as a “great step forward,’’ despite widespread disappointment among environmentalists that the pact does not include mandatory targets that would draw sanctions.

“Nobody says that this is the end of the road,’’ White House adviser David Axelrod told CNN’s “State of the Union’’ show.

“The end of the road would have been the complete collapse of those talks. This is a great step forward.’’

Disputes between rich and poor countries and between the world’s biggest carbon polluters - China and the United States - dominated the two-week conference.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand action to cool an overheating planet.

The meeting ended Saturday after a 31-hour negotiating marathon, with delegates accepting a US-brokered compromise.

The so-called Copenhagen Accord calls for reducing emissions to keep temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees above preindustrial levels. It gives billions of dollars in climate aid to poor nations but does not require the world’s major polluters to make deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s disappointing, that we didn’t get binding reduction targets,’’ said Denmark’s former climate minister, Connie Hedegaard, who led the negotiations in Copenhagen. “We’ve worked very hard to achieve that.’’

But Hedegaard said the conference was successful in the sense that developing countries are “acknowledging their responsibility for getting the world on track in the fight against climate change.’’

“Although we regrettably in Copenhagen did not manage to make commitments legally binding, that is a very important step forward, which will probably have far-reaching consequences in the years to come,’’ Hedegaard said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would work with member states to convert the commitments into a global legally binding treaty as soon as possible in 2010.

But the international response yesterday was not all rosy.

Former president Fidel Castro of Cuba said the agreement was undemocratic and called President Obama’s address to the conference as misleading.

In an essay published yesterday, Castro writes that only industrialized nations could speak at the summit, while emerging and poor nations had the right only to listen.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia urged the world to mobilize against the failure of the Copenhagen summit and said he would organize an alternate climate conference.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, however, defended the outcome as a first step toward “a new world climate order.’’