Australia and China are becoming unlikely allies in the struggle to keep alive hopes of a meaningful new climate change agreement at Copenhagen, with overtures by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong being well received in Beijing.
''It's a big step forward,'' said Pan Jiahua, a senior adviser on climate change diplomacy and economics who heads a research team at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Professor Pan spoke to The Age after Senator Wong had briefed her Chinese counterpart on a proposal that would mean developing countries registered their mitigation measures in a schedule attached to the main agreement, independent of any hard carbon cap targets.
The idea is particularly attractive to China, which has imposed significant domestic measures but is yet to agree to a binding international target.
Yesterday Senator Wong held a long meeting with China's chief climate change policymaker, National Development and Reform Commission vice-chairman Xie Zhenhua.
''They understand that for an agreement to work there will need to be some internationalisation of developing country action and the US will need that if the US is going to act,'' Senator Wong told The Age.
She praised President Hu Jintao's commitment last month to reduce the intensity of China's carbon emissions by ''a notable margin''.
Senator Wong still hopes for a breakthrough at Copenhagen in December that would limit carbon emissions to 450 parts per million. That would require global emissions to peak by 2015. Even China's most optimistic scenarios don't suggest that Chinese emissions will peak until 2030.
''What Copenhagen could look like is still to be determined,'' Senator Wong said. ''There's a deal there to be done and it really is a question of political will. The focus has to be, how do you leverage up the level of ambition?''
Meanwhile, the Australian Conservation Foundation has warned that Opposition amendments to an emissions trading scheme could cost $1.8 billion a year.
In an economic report released by the group yesterday, it said the foreshadowed amendments would blow out the national deficit, in contrast to Treasury estimates that the scheme would contribute $777 million to the budget in the first year of full operation.
The ACF also found that giving 100 per cent of carbon permits free to heavy emitters, which the Opposition is expected to propose, would equate to $18 billion in free permits to the six largest companies in Australia over the next five years.