Climate change funding 'at risk'

Updated: 2011-11-23 06:54

By Lan Lan and Li Jing (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Funding by Western nations to help developing countries fight climate change is more important than ever, even though money may be short due to the financial crisis, China's top climate change official said.

The bleak global economic outlook and various policy positions held by some nations have lowered expectations for climate talks in Durban, South Africa, starting on Monday.

"Western countries are facing difficulties," Xie Zhenhua, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"Addressing climate change is a long-term project while the world's financial woes are temporary."

The Green Climate Fund is on the agenda for the Durban meeting and hopefully progress can be made on long-term financing, Xie said.

Xie, who will again head the Chinese delegation at the Durban meeting, called for nations to adopt an "active and constructive" attitude.

He Jiankun, a laboratory director who specializes in low-carbon energy at Tsinghua University, stressed the importance of the meeting.

"It will be hard to reach any breakthrough at the Durban meeting, but the meeting is critical as it sets the direction and regime for future international climate change negotiations." Developing countries insist on the double-track negotiation mechanism - the UN Framework of Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol - while some developed countries want to combine the two. Disputes in Durban over this particular issue could be heated.

China will firmly stick to its commitments on combating climate change despite the global financial turmoil, Xie said.

Durban will also address the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally-binding treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

China, along with other developing countries, hopes to ensure Kyoto's continuation and there should be no gap between the two commitment periods. The first commitment period is due to expire with Kyoto in 2012.

Xie called on the European Union to continue to "take a leading role" in addressing climate change and said European countries have done an excellent job in combating climate change.

But Zhang Haibin, an associate professor at Peking University, was not optimistic. As Europe is still struggling to find a way out of the eurozone crisis, the structure of international climate negotiations will be severely affected.

"If we look at previous talks, any progress that has been achieved has something to do with EU leadership," he said.

"But with its increasing financial vulnerability the EU is not likely to be really active and assume greater responsibility this time," Zhang said.

The United States did not sign up to Kyoto and it is doubtful if Washington will make any legally-binding commitment now or in the coming years, Zhang said. It is unlikely that Durban will see major progress, he added.

The European Union wants a second commitment period for Kyoto, provided China and the US seek major cuts in the coming years.

Under the principle, rich nations - with their history of industrialization, should substantially cut their greenhouse gases and provide funding and technological support for developing countries to make voluntary reductions in their emissions.

But developed countries have been pushing the leading emerging economies - China, India, Brazil and South Africa - to shoulder more responsibility as their emissions have risen in step with their growing economic clout.

China has become the world's top carbon emitter over the past several years, overtaking the US.

"But we will not let our carbon emissions grow unchecked and repeat the mistakes of rich countries during their industrialization," Xie said.

China hopes to reduce the per-unit GDP greenhouse gas emission in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels.

Xie said China is willing to reconsider its role under the UN Framework of Climate Change Convention beyond 2020, based on scientific reviews on global warming to be published in 2015.

"China is willing to shoulder its due obligations consistent with its development stage, but the fundamental principle of 'common and differentiated responsibilities' needs to be upheld," he said.

Climate talks were held in 2009 in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, but little progress was made.