US and China to reduce emissions, but not enough

AMSTERDAM – Even after the U.S. and China set targets this week for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the world's combined pledges ahead of next month's climate summit fall far short of what experts say is needed to avert dangerous global warming.

Still, emission promises by the two countries, the world's biggest polluters, added much-needed momentum as governments began final preparations for the 192-nation conference in Copenhagen, where parameters will be set for a new climate change agreement.

From Beijing to Trinidad, governments huddled Friday to plan their negotiating strategies.

China hosted India and other major developing countries a day after announcing that Beijing would cut "carbon intensity," a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production, by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with levels in 2005.

The Chinese target means emissions will continue to grow as its economy expands, but at nearly half the rate they otherwise would have done.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country presides over the 27-nation European Union, said the Chinese bid was an important signal and a move in the right direction, but there was room for greater reductions.

"We feel that China could do more and we also hope to get further commitments," he said on the Web site of the EU presidency.

Unofficial calculations by U.N. climate officials said the move would put China on a path to reduce all its greenhouse gas emissions about 13 percent from "business as usual," the level those emissions would have reached without any action.

The Chinese move was expected to put pressure on India, which has failed to put forward any numbers for curbing emissions growth.

In India, where some 400 million people lack access to electricity, "climate change is not regarded as a national priority," according to an internal U.N. assessment.

However, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, indicated that his country was reviewing its position after the Chinese announcement, which he described as "a wake-up call."

"We have to think hard about our climate strategy now and look for flexibility," Ramesh told The Hindustan Times.

Press Trust of India reported from Beijing that India also may accept a carbon intensity target, but not as steep as China's.

In other meetings Friday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told a meeting of Amazon nations in his capital that rich countries must "pay the price" for preservation of the world's largest rain forest, which is considered vital for soaking carbon from the air.

British Commonwealth nations gathered in Trinidad to debate a declaration representing the common views of 53 widely divergent nations.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who pulled his Commonwealth country out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that would have limited Canada's emissions, reversed his decision to stay away from Copenhagen after Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said they would attend.

Harper's Conservative government says it plans to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 from 2006 levels, which are slightly tougher than measures announced by the U.S.

"Governments from all over the world are delivering before the climate conference," Hedegaard said. "All across the globe, things are moving."