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Chinese ambassador tries to ease dispute over climate talks

By Steven Mufson

China's ambassador to the United States this morning tried to smooth over the controversy last week in Copenhagen over comments by top U.S. negotiator Todd Stern, who said that U.S. money would not go to help China cover the cost of slowing climate change. Last week, a Chinese official sharply criticized Stern and said wealthy nations were obliged to help developing countries.

"China was speaking for developing countries and not speaking for itself," said Zhou Wenzhong, China's ambassador to the United States. "Developed countries are under obligation to provide money to developing countries," Zhou said. But he added, "China was not asking for anything for itself." He said, "Now is not the time to discuss the distribution" of funds from such mechanisms.

China, however, is the biggest beneficiary of the European offset system, which allows European companies to meet greenhouse gas emission limits by lowering emissions in developing countries instead. Billions of dollars have flowed to China under this program. This month the agency that reviews projects rejected some applications for offset credits for Chinese wind projects, drawing criticism from China.

Zhou said that China should be considered a developing country despite having foreign exchange reserves of more than $2 trillion. China, he argued, still has about 150 million people living below subsistence levels. "Along the coasts, many municipalities are growing very fast," he said. "But the interior provinces in per capita GDP terms are still at very low levels and will remain so for a very long time to come. So China should be considered a developing country."

Zhou said he knows Stern well, and said he was "puzzled" by Stern's comment. "He wants to make progress, enough progress and fast progress and I don't know why he said that. Obviously what he said was not constructive. But in an environment of heated debate, people say things like that. When they all calm down, they look back and think differently."

"I don't think that confrontation is what we want," Zhou said.

Zhou said that China's premier Wen Jiabao would make "an important speech" to the Copenhagen conference this week. China has vowed to improve its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, Zhou stressed, though because of rapid economic growth total emissions will keep growing. He noted that a senior Chinese official said last week that China's absolute emissions would peak between 2030 and 2040.


Steven Mufson

 |  December 14, 2009; 1:44 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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