World / US and Canada

Obama may take on climate change during 2nd term

By Lan Lan and Wu Wencong In Doha, Qatar (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-26 07:55

China expects US President Barack Obama will give climate change more attention in his upcoming second term, top climate change negotiator Su Wei said ahead of the climate change talks in Doha, Qatar.

Increasing extreme weather events are threatening the world, and the recent catastrophic Hurricane Sandy is likely to profoundly influence US climate change policy, Su said.

"But it would be difficult for President Obama to make large adjustments during the final stage of his first term, so we expect more will happen in his second term," Su said.

"It's not only a policy issue, but also involves the implementation of the policy," he said.

In his re-election victory speech this month, Obama mentioned "the destructive power of a warming planet", raising international expectation that he will more actively address climate change during his second term.

At the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen, Obama pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, but the Senate failed to pass the necessary legislation. In addition, the US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement that set targets for industrialized nations to cut emissions.

Zou Ji, deputy director of the National Climate Change Strategy Research and International Cooperation Center, said the climate-change policy of the US after the election remains unclear.

"It seems Obama has the political willingness to support addressing climate change, but his actions were limited by Capitol Hill. Even 'emission trading' remains a sensitive word in the US Congress, let alone words like 'bill' or 'cap'," said Zou.

Chinese officials have repeatedly recognized the leading role the EU played in climate-change talks, but they also said the EU's emissions reduction target is too low.

The EU pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Some observers have called on a more ambitious cut of 30 percent.

Developed economies need to pay the bill for their unrestricted emissions during their more than 200 year process of industrialization, Su said.

"In our understanding, the overall space for greenhouse gas emissions can also been seen as a limited resource. Given that developed economies consumed too much in the past, they need to make greater efforts and leave more space for the development of developing economies," he said.

Developed economies as a group should reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2007.

"Obviously, the 20 percent that has put on table by the EU is much lower than the target and needs to be raised," Su said.

The EU attributes the reasons behind the current lower emissions mainly to the economic difficulties of member nations, and it expects emissions to increase when the situation eases.

But the real economy, the part of economy associated with actual production of goods and services, constitutes little of the EU's economy, and the sectors that are declining are mainly financial and the service sectors, which have only a marginal effect on emissions.

"Their emissions reached a peak in the 1970s, so they have capacity to try harder by changing their consumption style," said Zou.

Su said the climate-change meeting in Doha is key to realizing the previous commitments and laying a foundation for future negotiations.

The extension of the Kyoto Protocol and the funding issue should be prioritized at the meeting, Su said.

"The second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol remains a key issue because it means the international community could practice the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities," said Su.

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