China outlines vision for 2015 UN climate change deal

Lead negotiator Su Wei calls for raised ambition from rich countries on pre-2020 emissions cuts and climate finance

Developed countries need to meet their promises on finance and pre-2020 emissions cuts, said Su Wei (Source: Flickr/World Resources)

China will publish a national climate action plan early next year, promised Su Wei
(Source: Flickr/World Resources)

By Megan Darby in Lima

As the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, China is critical to the success of international efforts to tackle climate change.

When softly spoken lead negotiator Su Wei held a press briefing on day four of UN climate talks in Lima, journalists hung on his every word.

China will publish its national contribution “if not in the first quarter, at least in the first half of the year,” said Su.

He warned there was much work to do before the world could agree a climate deal in Paris next year.

Rich countries have committed to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help the poor adapt to climate change and green their economies.

Su said: “We don’t have any clear roadmap or clear picture of meeting that target.”

The US$9.7 billion pledged to the Green Climate Fund is “far from adequate.”

Pre-2020 action

There also needs to be increased action on emissions before 2020, he said.

Most developed countries agreed in 2012 to ramp up emissions cuts – which have flatlined – this decade, but have failed to ratify the agreement.

A handful, including Australia, Canada and Japan, were not signed up to that deal. They need to make “comparable” commitments, said Su.

This is important not just for the short term, but to build trust in the process, Su added.

As for the hoped-for 2015 deal in Paris, Su stressed it should put adaptation to climate change on the same footing as mitigation (cutting emissions).

That has been the refrain of developing countries, concerned about their ability to cope with rising temperatures and extreme weather.

“In China, we are among the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change,” said Su.

“The impact of climate change is not in the future; it is happening now and developing countries are exposed to the dangers and the threats.”

US relations

China still places itself firmly in the developing country camp, even after its recent rapprochement with the US.

President Xi Jinping committed last month to peak China’s emissions “around 2030”, in a historic pact with US counterpart Barack Obama.

The deal “does not necessarily blur the distinction between developed and developing countries” Su insisted, saying the goals reflected the two countries’ different circumstances.

He declined to say whether China’s national plan would set an absolute cap on emissions, saying it was still a subject of research.

And he took a different view to US negotiator Todd Stern on the timescale of a future agreement.

Stern has proposed revisiting the deal every five years, to “ratchet up” ambition.

Su preferred a 10-year commitment period: “It costs a lot of time and energy to negotiate every five years. Ten years provides some stability for the market to follow.”

On the legal nature of a deal, Su said he had “an open mind”. The US has made clear it cannot accept a legally binding protocol as it will not get past Congress.

On calls to include a long term target of net zero emissions the second half of this century, Su said: “I don’t know whether it is practically feasible… but certainly we need some ambitious objectives in order to drive the economy in a way that we can embark on a low carbon development path.

“Certainly, we hope the world will speed up the low carbon efforts to have less reliance on fossil fuels.”

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