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China, U.S. argue as climate draft takes shape

A new draft agreement at the Copenhagen climate talks pulled together the main elements of a global pact but left gaping holes on financing and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Danish police push protesters to the sidewalk during a demonstration in Copenhagen on Friday.Peter Dejong / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

China and the U.S. fought on the sidelines of the U.N. climate summit on Friday, as delegates studied a new draft agreement that pulled together the main elements of a global pact but left gaping holes on financing and cutting greenhouse gas emissions for world leaders to fill in next week.

China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said the chief U.S. climate negotiator either lacks common sense or is "extremely irresponsible" for saying that no U.S. climate financing should be going to China.

In unusually blunt language, the minister said he was "shocked" by U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern's comments that China shouldn't expect any American climate aid money and that the United States was not in any debt to the world for its historical carbon emissions.

"I don't want to say the gentleman is ignorant," He told reporters in Copenhagen. "I think he lacks common sense where he made such a comment vis-a-vis funds for China. Either lack of common sense or extremely irresponsible."

The world's two biggest greenhouse polluters have been exchanging barbs this week about the sincerity of their pledges to fight climate change.

In China's view, the U.S. and other rich countries have a heavy historical responsibility to cut emissions and any climate deal in Copenhagen should take into account a country's level of development.

China is grouped with the developing nations in the climate talks. But Stern said that when it comes to financing to help poor countries deal with climate change — a key element in the Copenhagen talks — the U.S. doesn't consider China one of the neediest countries.

"I don't envision public funds — certainly not from the United States — going to China," Stern said on Wednesday. "China to its great credit has a dynamic economy, and sits on some two trillion dollars in reserves. So we don't think China would be the first candidate for public funding."

The Chinese official said China wasn't asking for money, but suggested the U.S. and China had different responsibilities in dealing with global warming. He urged Stern to read the U.S.-China joint statement on climate change issued when President Barack Obama visited China three weeks ago.

"China, with funds or without funds from external sources, will do what we can," He said. "We have been doing this without external support for the past dozen or so years. And our commitment from now to 2020 is pledged on the basis of no external support. It's a unilateral action."

China has pledged to cut "carbon intensity" — a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production — by 40-45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.

Percentages spelled out in draft
Also Friday, delegates at the summit studied a draft text that says the world as a whole should reduce emissions by 50 percent to 95 percent by 2050, and that rich countries should cut emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020, in both cases using 1990 as the baseline year.

View images of a landmark climate conference and the environmental problems it hopes to address.

It was meant to focus attention on the broad goals the world must achieve to avoid irreversible change in climate that scientists say could bring many species to extinction and cause upheavals in many parts of the Earth.

"It's time to begin to focus on the big picture," said Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official. "The serious discussion on finance and targets has begun."

So far, pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial countries have amounted to far less than the minimum.

The European Union, at a summit Friday in Brussels, said it was raising its 2020 target to 30 percent from 20 percent, in a gambit intended to push other wealthy nations to deepen their emissions-reduction pledges next week.

Still, the EU commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade was conditional, depending on better commitments by the United States and Canada.

From 180 pages to six
The six-page draft document distilled a much-disputed 180-page negotiating text, laying out the obligations of industrial and developing countries in curbing the growth of gases responsible for global warming.

News of the document came as the European Union leaders agreed in Brussels to commit $3.6 billion a year until 2012 to a short-term fund to help poor countries cope with climate change. Most of the money came from Britain, France and Germany. Many cash-strapped former East bloc countries balked at donating but eventually all gave at least a token amount to preserve the 27-nation bloc's unity. 

De Boer said the fact that Europe put a figure on the table — about 30 percent of what was needed — was "a huge encouragement to the process."

Critics said the EU was merely repacking aid promised earlier and sidestepping key climate change issues to produce a favorable headline. They noted that $10 billion over three years paled in comparison to the huge stimulus packages and bank bailouts paid by many EU governments in the global financial meltdown.

Greenpeace said EU leaders were avoiding more important decisions on longer-term climate financing for poor nations and on greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

"Climate change will not end in three years ... so neither should the flow of cash," said Joris den Blanken, the environmental group's climate expert.

ActionAid, which focuses on development aid, said the EU was failing to pledge "real money" and that many EU states had "a track record of repackaging or re-announcing existing aid."

Waiting for specifics
The draft agreement is less specific than other proposals and attempts to bridge the divide between rich and poor countries. It leaves much to be decided by more 110 heads of state, including President Barack Obama, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and most of Europe's top leadership, who are due to arrive in the Danish capital in one week for a landmark summit.

"This text will be the focus of the negotiations from now on," said Jake Schmidt, an analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The draft, drawn up by Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta, said global emissions of greenhouse gases should peak "as soon as possible." But controlling carbon emissions should be subordinate to the effort to wipe out poverty and develop the economies of the world's poorest nations, it said.

It called for new funding in the next three years by wealthy countries to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate, but mentioned no figures. And it made no specific proposals on long-term help for developing countries.

"That's the gaping hole," said Antonio Hill, of Oxfam International.

On Saturday, the conference president, Connie Hedegaard, was to prepare a report on the status of the talks.

Activists arrested
In downtown Copenhagen, police detained 75 people in the first street protests linked to the conference. About 200 people rallied in the area where corporate CEOs were meeting to discuss the role of business in global warming.

The protesters broke into small groups, banging drums and shouting, "Mind your business. This is our climate!" There were no reports of violence.

Police spokesman Henrik Moeller Nielsen said 20 of those detained were released and at least six still in custody face arraignment on preliminary charges of vandalism. A much bigger demonstration is expected Saturday.