Sunday, November 30, 2008

Australia's top negotiator says China's openness holds key to climate success

AUSTRALIA'S chief climate diplomat has backed China playing a significant role in a post-Kyoto treaty on climate change, saying the emerging giant could realistically commit to a legally binding deal to curb its greenhouse emissions from 2013.

Howard Bamsey, a veteran negotiator who was this year appointed Australia's special envoy for climate change, said China was open to a cut in emissions below "business as usual" — the level its greenhouse footprint would reach on its current path without steps to tackle climate change.

The comments come as ministers and officials from 185 countries gather for a key UN climate-change summit starting Monday in Poznan, Poland — the last big stepping stone before a new deal to avert catastrophic climate change is due to be signed in Copenhagen late next year.

The global financial crisis is looming large over the conference, with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change head Rajendra Pachauri this week warning an in-principle commitment by most rich nations to cut emissions to per cent below 1990 by 2020 had slipped on to "the back burner" until the economic maelstrom settled.

Also looming is the Federal Government's long-awaited announcement on how quickly it will cut greenhouse emissions, which Climate Change Minister Penny Wong last night announced would be delayed until she returned from the conference.

Climate scientists and environmentalists have warned Australia faces an international backlash if it fails to a cut of at least 25 per cent. Greenhouse adviser Ross Garnaut also recommended Australia agree to a 25 per cent cut under a proportionate global deal, but said a lesser deal demanding a 10 per cent cut was more likely.

Mr Bamsey said the Government had committed to setting an ambitious target. He said it was unlikely there would be much discussion of targets at Poznan, which will be focused on laying the groundwork for next year. "I don't think the specifics of numbers on the table at this stage are going to make a sensational difference one way or the other," he told The Age.

But Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said anything less than 25 per cent would take "a lot of steam" out of global negotiations. "We've been sounding other countries out and we know that the 15 per cent range will not be well-received at all," he said.

A commitment by China to limit its emissions would be a major breakthrough in the faltering climate negotiations, but would depend on wealthy nations promising much deeper cuts and spending vast sums on clean energy technology in the developing world.

Only industrialised countries are bound by greenhouse targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, as emerging economies were not responsible for historic emissions and needed to room to grow to drag themselves out of poverty.

Mr Bamsey said it was critical that the next climate-change deal included commitments from all major players, including China. "If you pushed me, I would say yes, it's realistic," he said. "But I think the nature of the emerging economies' commitments will be different from those of developed countries. We would say China is already taking a good deal of action, but it is action that is outside the (Kyoto) framework."

A global deal is contingent on a major commitment from the US, which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless China and India made similar commitments. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to "engage vigorously" in climate talks, but US Senate delegation to Poznan leader John Kerry warned hopes the US could invest heavily to cut emissions in the developing world were threatened by the financial crisis.

In a press conference on Thursday, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said the spiralling economic problems would make it harder to reach an ambitious new treaty and underscored the need to make green technologies profitable.

Mr Bamsey said there was some evidence that investment in climate friendly technologies was holding up better during the crisis than in other areas.


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