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February 6th, 2009:

Climate-change Talks May Boost Ties With Obama, Say Observers

The New York Times in Beijing – Updated on Feb 06, 2009

The urgent need to work together to find solutions to global warning may do much to bring China and the new US administration together, officials and scholars in both countries say. Zhang Haibin, an associate professor at Peking University who specialises in environmental politics, said China and the United States had not co-operated much on climate change but that some mainland policy advisers believed talks on the issue could foster co-operation with US President Barack Obama.

“I believe climate change may become a very important issue, which will put Sino-US relations in a new framework in the 21st century because the stakes are high,” said Wu Jianmin, a senior adviser to the Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to France. “We all understand we don’t have much time left. We’ve got to work together.”

However, it remains to be seen whether either government will be able to do much about curbing greenhouse gas emissions when they are so focused on reviving their economies. In public, at least, Premier Wen Jiabao and other officials have said that the financial crisis gives China an opportunity to turn its growth model towards one that is more environmentally sustainable.

This largely meshes with Mr Obama’s hope that reviving the US economy will include developing non-polluting energy technologies and “green jobs”.

But some American experts worry that although Chinese leaders declare they are serious about the issue, it has been hard to pin them down on specific measures.

Mr Wen, in an interview this week with British media, restated China’s position that it does not intend to agree to specific limits at a UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

“It’s difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development,” he said. “Europe started its industrialisation several hundred years ago, but for China, it has only been dozens of years.”

But the European Union’s envoy to Washington told US lawmakers that China would not be able to escape making firm commitments at the Copenhagen talks.

Questioned by Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner, a leading US critic of China’s actions on the climate, the EU ambassador to the United States, John Bruton, agreed that the US and the EU would probably reject any treaty that did not cover China.

“I don’t think you could sell that. I don’t think there will be a `get out of jail free’ card for China,” said Mr Bruton, in a reference to a card in the board game Monopoly.

Mr Bruton, who was briefing a US House of Representatives select committee on energy independence and global warming, said Chinese leaders “recognise that they need to do a lot” and that “we need to assist them as best we can”.

Several American experts on energy, climate and Sino-US relations warned that taskforces and summits alone would be ineffective unless they resulted in programmes and investments that continued for many years. “Nearly everything that these two countries have tried to do jointly on climate and energy has been episodic,” said David Victor, a political scientist at Stanford University.

“The financial crisis has created an opportunity for a dialogue, but it also creates a host of new risks as the countries turn inward.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse