Zhang Yong favourite to replace Xie as China climate envoy in Paris

Veteran Communist Party official set to take control of Beijing’s negotiating team as talks enter critical phase

(Pic: IISD/2011)

Xie was China’s chief climate envoy from 2007-2015 (Pic: IISD/2011)

By Ed King

Veteran Communist party official Zhang Yong is the favourite to be China’s chief envoy at the UN summit in Paris this December, after the incumbent Xie Zhenhua retired.

The head of the country’s food and drug administration, Zhang has also served as deputy secretary-general of the State Council since 2003, and ran the National Food Safety Commission from 2010-2013.

This week he was appointed as Xie’s successor at the National Development and Reform Commission, which deals with climate issues.

Li Junfeng, the Director of National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC) told RTCC “no decision” had been made over Xie’s successor.

“I have no idea who will be appointed,” he said.

But another source speaking on condition of anonymity told RTCC that Zhang was likely to be handed control of China’s team for Paris.

Changhua Wu from the Climate Group said she “assumed” Zhang would be a natural successor.

An official announcement could be made at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, which runs from March 4-14 and is a common forum for new appointments.

Critical role

Mystery initially surrounded the departure of Xie, the face of China at UN talks since 2007 and who was recently in Europe meeting senior climate officials from France and Brussels.

But Li Shuo from Greenpeace China said this was a “normal” given he had passed retirement age of 65 in a strict Chinese system which has little flexibility.

“It is understandably a ‘surprise’ to the international speculators that there will be discontinuity in the crucial lead up to Paris,” he said.

“It is still early to tell if or to what extent this might have an impact on China’s position though.”

Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who attended last year’s UN climate summit in New York, is expected to retain overall control of climate policy.

Over the past few Xie had built a close relationship with his US counterpart Todd Stern, the pair visiting each other’s houses in the lead up to an historic climate pact between the two superpowers.

Stern and Xie were credited with saving the last UN climate summit in Lima from collapse, agreeing on a definition of how rich and poor countries could be ‘differentiated’.

China and the US jointly account for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and their agreement last November to work together on cutting pollution levels was seen as a sign that a global deal in Paris was possible.

Earlier this week China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported the country’s coal consumption fell 2.9% in 2014. Analysts say this could translate to a 0.7% drop in CO2 emissions.

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