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China’s climate negotiators are moving too slowly, but the country’s green energy companies are advancing at an “astonishing” pace and threaten to outpace western competitors, Europe’s climate chief said on Tuesday.

Connie Hedegaard’s comments were delivered alongside a warning that Europe would not automatically sign up again to the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, the main global deal to tackle climate change.

“I was a bit disappointed in Geneva,” she said of U.N. climate talks earlier this month. “China was represented by an undersecretary from the local embassy — that was not a good sign. China is a key player and they have to commit strongly.”

At the same time, she warned business leaders at the European Policy Centre against underestimating Chinese rivals in the race for global dominance of the green technology sector.

“I really strongly believe that it’s very foolish if one mistakes the way they (China) are slow around the negotiating table with what is happening in reality in China,” she said.

Three Chinese wind turbine makers feature in the global top 10, up from zero 10 years ago, and China now controls half the global solar market.

“Coming from Denmark where it took 30 years to build the world (wind power) brand Vestas, I’d say that’s quite astonishing how you can build three companies in the top 10 globally in less than 10 years,” she added. “It tells us something about how fast they are moving when they are moving.”

Hedegaard said progress looked “very difficult” in the run up to global climate talks in Cancun, Mexico in November, and that nobody should expect the EU to sign up to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol unless loopholes are closed and other big players commit.

“If we did so, we would take away the pressure to try to bring the US into a formal arrangement and we would take away the pressure on the emerging economies,” Hedegaard said. “We should not sign up to something where we can see the environmental integrity will not be okay for three years to come.”

Reuters, 14 September 2010