HOPES of a breakthrough deal on climate change remained in the balance last night as China came under pressure to do more to curb its massive carbon output.
Chinese president Hu Jintao signalled the world’s biggest polluting nation would take action to stem global warming but failed to set the definite targets needed to end the deadlock over greenhouse gas emission cutbacks.
As more than 100 world leaders gathered at a special United Nations meeting in New York, Mr Hu’s move was given a guarded welcome as a firm step in the right direction ahead of negotiations in Copenhagen this December.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned failure to agree a binding international climate change treaty would be “morally inexcusable”.
China’s president said that his country will “vigorously” develop renewable energy and do more to conserve energy.
“We will endeavour to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level,” Mr Hu said.
While his promise to set a target was ground-breaking, Mr Hu’s failure to be specific caused unease among many environmentalists — though it triggered hopes of greater Chinese flexibility to come.
US president Barack Obama promised a “new era” in US attitudes to global warming, but strong domestic opposition to emission cuts meant he did not deliver any fresh proposals to try and break the log-jam in the talks.
The Chinese proposal is unlikely to mean an overall reduction in its emissions as the country’s economy is expected to continue to grow rapidly over the next decade.
President Obama’s climate change envoy, Todd Stern, said China needed to produce figures, saying: “It depends on what the number is.” But former US vice-president and environmental activist Al Gore praised China’s “impressive leadership” on the issue.
Climate change talks have stalled as Western nations will not pledge to cut enough carbon to take the world out of danger, while developing economies resist binding ceilings on emissions because it will damage their output.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who is at the talks, warned Irish families will have to pay more in order to bring climate change under control.
Mr Cowen stressed major progress was now needed to save the environment, but believed there would be “short term” economic effects on the pockets of Irish consumers as we moved to a low carbon economy.
With a carbon tax expected in the December budget, Mr Cowen again said he backed EU ambitions to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2020.
China and the US each account for 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution, with the EU responsible for 14%, followed by Russia and India with 5% each.
The Copenhagen talks are intended to agree a way to prevent a global temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius above present levels.
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