A showdown between the world’s two largest polluters loomed over the Copenhagen climate talks talks today as China accused the United States and other rich nations of backtracking on a deal to fight global warming.
Trying to ease the tension, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rich and poor countries must work together and “stop pointing fingers” at each other.
Ban’s warning came as world leaders started arriving in Copenhagen, kicking the two-week conference into high gear in its quest to deliver a deal to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.
But key issues remain and the conference so far has been marked by sharp disagreements between China and the United States and deep divisions between rich and poor nations.
China and other developing countries are resisting US-led attempts to make their cuts in emissions growth binding, rather than voluntary, and open to international scrutiny.
“You can’t even begin to have an environmentally sound agreement without the adequate, significant participation of China,” US special climate envoy Todd Stern said.
China accused developed countries of trying to escape their obligations to help poor nations fight climate change.
“We still maintain that developed countries have the obligation to provide financial support,” the Foreign Ministry said, adding that was “the key condition for the success of the Copenhagen conference.”
President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are among more than 110 world leaders expected in Copenhagen this week.
The US has offered a 3 to 4% cut in emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels. China put forward a completely different measure, pledging to cut “carbon intensity” - a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production – by 40-45% by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.
Since China’s economy is expected to double in size in coming years, the pledge means China’s emissions will only increase by nearly 50%, instead of doubling.
But neither offer impressed the EU, which has promised to reduce its emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by 2020 – and go up to 30% if others make comparable commitments. Japan and Russia have already promised 25% cuts.
Ban said he remains cautiously optimistic about a successful outcome at Copenhagen, but warned that negotiators must work out their differences and not leave major problems for world leaders to resolve.
“This is a time where they should exercise the leadership,” he said. “And this is a time to stop pointing fingers, and this is a time to start looking in the mirror and offering what they can do more.”
He said all nations “must do more” to keep carbon emissions below dangerous levels and rich countries should step up commitments to provide a steady flow of money for poor countries to combat climate-linked economic disruptions such as rising seas, drought and floods.
Ban said if negotiators cannot resolve those problems before the world leaders arrive “the outcome will be either a weak one, or there will be no agreement.”
“This will be a serious mistake on the part of the negotiators and the leaders if they go back empty-handed,” he said.
Meanwhile the UN conference’s working groups were finishing up two years of work and drawing up their final recommendations on such issues as deforestation, technology transfers and the registration of plans by developing countries to control their emissions.
Drafts on those issues showed some narrowing of gaps but left many disputes to be decided by environment ministers, which ultimately may go up to the heads of state.
“Ministers have to be very clear and focused over the next 48 hours if we are to make it,” said Danish conference president Connie Hedegaard.
Talks hit a problem yesterday when developing countries walked away temporarily from the negotiations, fearing industrial countries were backpedalling in their promises to cut greenhouse gases.
The issues concern the details of a final treaty to be negotiated over the next six to 12 months and may not even be included in the political deal reached in Copenhagen.