US climate envoy hails special relationship with China

Common ground growing between two superpowers, Todd Stern tells reporters after two-day meeting in Beijing

US secretary of state John Kerry, China's outgoing climate chief Xie Zhenhua and special envoy Todd Stern (Pic: State Department)

US secretary of state John Kerry, China’s outgoing climate chief Xie Zhenhua and special envoy Todd Stern (Pic: State Department)

By Ed King

US climate envoy Todd Stern has hailed the close relationship between Beijing and Washington days before the two countries are expected to reveal their contribution to a 2015 UN climate pact.

Speaking in the Chinese capital after two days of talks, Stern told reporters there were growing areas of common ground between the two superpowers, which are responsible for just under 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“There is a greater level of convergence on some very important issues, and there is a greater measure of realism with respect to what needs to happen to get a deal,” Stern said, in quotes reported by Reuters.

Talks were in a better place than in 2009, when nearly 200 countries last tried to seal a UN deal on climate change, he said. “It is not going to be easy – I have no illusions about that – but we are not in the same place.”

Vital role

Last November the US and China issued a joint climate declaration, with Beijing targeting an emissions peak by “around 2030” and the US aiming for emission cuts of 26-28% by 2025 on 2005 levels.

The relationship is deemed critical if governments are to sign off on a deal in Paris later this year.

Close cooperation between the two countries helped resolve an argument over how the burden of carbon cuts could be shared out between rich and poor countries at the Lima climate summit last year.

The recent replacement of veteran climate envoy Xie Zhenhua by Zhang Yong would not affect links between the two administrations, Stern added.

The US is expected to join the EU and Switzerland by submitting these commitments to the UN by a March 31 deadline, with China’s figures likely to come later this year.

Major economies have been asked to deliver their carbon cutting pledges by October 1, after which the UN will calculate if they are enough to avoid dangerous levels of warming.

China’s carbon emissions are believed to have dipped slightly in 2014, mainly due to a 2.9% drop in coal use, slowing economic growth and a small improvement in energy efficiency levels among heavy industry.

The International Energy Agency says this contributed to the annual rise in energy-related carbon emissions stalling last year.

New text

Negotiations on how a global climate deal could work are ongoing. On Thursday the UN delivered a draft text to all capitals translated in the organisation’s six official languages.

“This allows early consideration of the emerging consensus and the options now on the table by all concerned government ministries so countries can conclude successfully in Paris,” said Christiana Figueres, head of the UN’s climate body.

“Paris needs to puts the world on a recognizable track to peak global emissions as soon as possible, achieve a deep de-carbonization of the global economy and reach a climate neutral world in the second half of this century at the latest.”

This article was amended on 23/3. China’s INDC is not expected by the end of March as previously stated.

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