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UN Climate Poker: Emboldened China Plays $100 Billion Trump Card

Alex Morales and Reed Landberg, Bloomberg

China offered new details on its commitment to rein in greenhouse gases and called on rich nations to speed up delivery of the $100 billion in annual climate-related aid they’ve promised by 2020.

China will work to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted for every dollar of gross domestic product and to boost its stock of forests that absorb emissions, Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator, said today. The comments are among the most significant from a Chinese official since President Xi Jinping pledged last month to begin to reduce carbon-dioxide pollution around 2030 and expand supplies of renewable power.

Addressing carbon intensity is key as China emits almost twice as much pollution to achieve the same amount of growth as the U.S., according to data from the International Energy Agency. China’s carbon intensity is on par with the U.S. level in 1985.

“We would redouble our efforts in terms of taking actions on climate change for the period up to 2020 and we would markedly reduce the carbon intensity,” Su said at a press conference today at the latest round of United Nations climate talks in Lima.

Su coupled his comments on China’s commitment with a call to accelerate funding for climate aid, shifting the pressure to industrialized nations, led by the U.S. and European Union, to do their part toward reaching an agreement next year.

Rich nation commitments for climate aid are “not adequate” and need to be boosted, Su said.

Biggest Emitter

Xi’s pledge last month to work toward a peak marked the first time a major developing country said it would be bound by restrictions at the UN talks. The move injected momentum into talks on limiting global warming, which have reached a stage where developing nations are being asked for the first time to make commitments on reducing their emissions.

China in 2008 surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Since it’s deemed a developing country, China hasn’t been required to sign up for pollution caps under a 1997 agreement to curb emissions.

Su’s comments today add credibility to China’s pledge, according to Samantha Smith, global climate and energy initiative leader at the environmental group WWF.

“They’ve made a big commitment,” Smith said in an interview in Lima. “They’ve given a target, and that’s a big deal. It absolutely gives credibility and momentum to the process.”

China will submit its formal pledge by the middle of next year as part of an agreement nations want to finalize in December 2015 in Paris, Su said.

China also will “markedly raise the share of non-fossil fuels in the general share of the energy mix and we will increase our forest stocks markedly, and make the best efforts to peak our emissions as early as possible,” Su said.

Climate Aid

Su was critical of the progress industrialized nations have made to boost climate-related aid to $100 billion a year by 2020. The Green Climate Fund, a UN institution meant to channel an unspecified portion of that aid to developing nations, has pledges for about $9.7 billion so far.

The “$10 billion is just one 10th of that objective,” and “we do not have any clear road map of meeting that target for 2020,” Su said. Climate aid is “a trust-building process,” he added.

Su also weighed in on a debate over the period which emissions commitments should be made. China, siding with the EU, favors a 10-year period, because it gives investors greater certainty over the long-term direction of policy.

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