EU climate chief urges China to show commitment

Connie Hedegaard. Brussels, January 2012. [Shutterstock]

China could set a new pace for slow-moving international climate talks, by bringing its domestic commitment to fight global warming on to the world stage, the EU’s top climate change official said on Wednesday.

EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard is visiting China this week, for two-way talks ahead of a June UN meeting in Bonn, where negotiators from more than 190 nations will continue efforts to agree a new international climate treaty.

Hedegaard said she was impressed by the action China, the world’s Greenhouse gas-producing nation, is taking to cut climate-changing emissions, but urged Beijing to take the same approach in U.N. talks.

“I would hope that this domestic strong focus can be translated into a strong position internationally, because that would be a game changer in the international talks,” Hedegaard told Reuters in an interview.

By 2020, China has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels.

In efforts to meet the target, it has launched six domestic carbon trading markets and ploughed billions of dollars into renewable and nuclear energy, and energy efficiency projects.

But Beijing is reluctant to make its ambitions internationally binding. Other major emitters, including the United States, Japan and Canada, say they will not accept binding targets unless China does so.

Last month, China demanded that all developed nations immediately raise their emission targets far above current levels, “without any conditionality”, in a paper submitted to the UN climate change secretariat.

Nations must step up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, or risk ever more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels, hundreds of scientists in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said this month.

Negotiators have given themselves until a meeting in Paris in December 2015 to agree a new global treaty, but talks have been troubled by a sharp divide between rich and poor nations for over a decade.

“It is an open question whether the world is ready to sign up to something that is adequate in Paris next year,” Hedegaard said, adding that she was concerned about the inability of overcoming differences between rich and poor nations.

“That will not bring the world as far as we need to go,” she said.

Developing nations say rich countries have the main responsibility to cut emissions, because they caused the climate change crisis by industrialising well over a century ago, and have no right to deny the poor the living standards they enjoy.

Developed countries say poor nations must bear some of the burden of reducing emissions, because the global total would keep rising despite emissions-cutting measures by rich nations, due to rapid and often fossil-fuelled growth in major economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework package was presented on 22 January 2014 as a successor to the three 20-20-20 targets of 20% greenhouse gas cuts, improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy market penetration, all by 2020. The energy efficiency goal is non-binding and remains the only one the bloc is not on track to meet.


For 2030, the EU framework has proposed:


A 40% greenhouse gas reduction target that is binding at nation state level and may not be met by carbon offsets

The use of carbon offsets to meet further emissions reduction commitments made in international climate talks

A 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but voluntary for individual member states

No consideration of any new energy efficiency target until after a June 2014 review of the Energy Efficiency Directive 

Non-binding shale gas recommendations which could be made binding after a review in 2015

A market reserve facility for the Emissions Trading System, with the power to withhold or release up to 100 million allowances

An end to the Fuel Quality Directive, which mandates reductions in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels, by 2020

The package was widely received as a compromise reflecting the balance of power between various member states at the European Council. It will now be discussed by MEPs at the European Parliament and EU heads of state at the European Council before a final version is agreed.

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