Breakthrough at UN Climate Talks? China Moves on Verification, Binding Commitments

UN COP16 climate talks in Cancun

After one week of little progress at the UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, Chinese negotiators have offered a proposal that some analysts are calling a "game-changer."

According to reports from Reuters, Xinhua News Agency and other media outlets, China is working to encourage developed countries to continue with the binding agreements set out in the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 by offering to make its own internal pledge to slow growth in carbon emissions binding.

China pledged last year to reduce the carbon intensity of their emissions per unit of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 40-45 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level. China bound its commitment domestically through a State Council decision even before last year’s Copenhagen meeting.

The offer from China yesterday would codify that commitment under a UN resolution and allow it to be verifiable by external parties.

"We can create a resolution and that resolution can be binding on China," said Huang Huikang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's envoy for climate change talks.

"Under the (U.N. Climate) Convention, we can even have a legally binding decision. We can discuss the specific form. We can make our efforts a part of international efforts," Huang said.

The move from China is the closest they have come to agreeing to a verification regime for carbon emissions, one of the sticking points that prevented an agreement at the COP15 climate talks last year in Copenhagen.

Industrialized countries including the United States (which never ratified Kyoto), Russia, Canada and Japan have generally been opposed to continuing with Kyoto because it did not put any binding limits on developing countries. But that could change with Monday's offer because China has never before agreed to any binding emissions cuts.

"This is a gamechanger," said Jennifer Morgan from the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

"The suggestion has won a lot of support," said Huang. "We hope it can help us find a solution to the emission reduction issue."

Negotiators from China and the other so-called "BASIC" countries said they would be willing to move forward on a climate agreement if there was agreement on three "non-negotiable" components: agreement on a post-2012 commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol; a climate change fund had materialized and countries had come to an understanding on technology transfer.

The BASIC coalition, a group of the world's largest developing economies (Brazil, China, South Africa, and India), held up an agreement in the final hours of last years talks in Copenhagen

"As long as all parties have sincere political wills, China thinks the talks will eventually achieve positive and meaningful results, and is confident that it will reflect what was laid out in the Bali road map," Chinese negotiator Su Wei told Xinhua.

The news comes as several reports out of Cancun indicate an improved mood and an diplomatic thaw between negotiators from developed and developing nations. U.S. negotiators diplomats signaled Monday that an easing of tensions climate relations between the U.S. and China could actually lead to an agreement.

"We are the first and second largest emitters, and we are the first and second largest economies," said U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing.

"We will work very hard going forward to find common ground, which I very much think we can achieve."

Tim Hurst is the executive editor of the LiveOAK Network where he writes about the politics of climate change and the environmental movement. Follow him on twitter.

Read more on Celsias:

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Photo: linh.m.do at flickr

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  • Posted on Dec. 7, 2010. Listed in:

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