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EWEA's Features

US and China in carbon cutting collision


10 December

While the world is abuzz about Tuvalu’s strong stand at the climate talks, another battle is brewing between the United States and China over the historical responsibility for climate change and how exactly to measure carbon cutting targets.

Todd Stern, US special envoy for climate change, arrived in Copenhagen yesterday with strong words for China: “The United States accepts its historical role in greenhouse gas emissions, but it is wrong to talk about fault and debt. We want the strongest possible agreement in Copenhagen, but it cannot be a free round for China and the big developing countries,” Stern said.

Underneath the messages, Stern is highlighting the fact that China emits the largest amount of CO₂ of any country in the world. The US is saying China should take account of this fact and work to reduce its emissions, in return it will agree on carbon cutting targets.

But China says the US should allow for the fact that over the past century it has followed a carbon intensive development path – which has, in turn, driven climate change. The US should accept this historical responsibility for climate change and help fund developing countries efforts to mitigate climate change, China says.

“It’s a bit like a game of hide and seek,” Rémi Gruet, EWEA’s climate expert, said. One wants commitments from the other first, and vice versa, he explained.  
“It is important that the more advanced developing countries avoid taking a high carbon development path and move directly to an economy based on renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Gruet said.If China and other countries like Mexico carry on increasing their emissions as they are today, by 2020 they will be emitting dangerously high levels of carbon, he said.

The argument also rests on which yardstick is used to measure carbon emissions. If you take absolute carbon emissions per country, China emerges as the biggest climate enemy. But, if carbon emissions are measured per capita, the table flips and rich and less populated countries are the environment’s biggest foe.



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