By JOHN M. BRODER, China and U.S. Narrow Gap in Climate Talks

I got thia from NRDC and see this as much needed progress on a thorny topic. Thank you NRDC.
CANCÛN, Mexico — The United States and China have significantly narrowed their differences on the verification of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, officials say, providing hope that a United Nations conference here on climate change here can achieve some modest success.

The verification issue, which cuts deeply on matters of national sovereignty and international trust, was a major factor in the torpedoing of last year’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen. But in the intervening year, China has significantly softened its position and the United States has moderated its insistence on the issue.

The reduced friction between the two nations has greatly improved the mood here, and envoys from both countries expressed guarded optimism this week that a deal could be reached by the end of the conference on Friday.

“There’s an agreement to be had — I’m quite sure of that,” Todd Stern, the chief American climate change negotiator said on Monday, although he added, “I’m not sure we’re going to get it.”

Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate envoy, also signaled a willingness to sign an accord here, as long as it met Chinese objectives on financial aid to developing countries, transfer of low-emissions technology to poor nations and a continuing of discussions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. He pointedly did not raise verification or transparency issues as a barrier to the negotiations.

The overall talks are grinding on slowly, and there is some concern that with only three full negotiating days ahead, there will not be enough time to resolve differences on remaining issues like money, technology, adaptation, emissions reductions and forestry programs, the basic agenda of the climate negotiations.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whose auspices these annual talks are held, operates on the principle of consensus, meaning that any of the more than 190 participating nations can hold up an agreement.

Last December, a group of nations led by Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Sudan played the role of spoiler in Copenhagen. This year, Bolivia in particular has raised objections on a number of matters, including plans to compensate landowners for preserving forests. The Bolivian leader, Evo Morales, says this threatens the livelihoods of landless peasants, and he plans to address the conference on this issue this week.

Another issue hanging over the talks is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, whose emissions targets expire at the end of 2012. Most developing nations are insisting that new targets be set and that money continue to flow to them for projects that reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming.

Japan startled the conference last week by announcing that it would not accept any new targets under the Kyoto Protocol, and Russia, Canada and some other parties to the protocol have also signaled a reluctance to assume new commitments. But language is being drafted here that papers over the issue, leaving it to be resolved at future meetings.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s chief of climate policy, complained that the pace of the talks was too slow and that the negotiating documents were full of holes.

“The texts are still much too long,” she said. “There are much too many options. They are still too complicated.”

She urged her counterparts to make compromises or face the prospect of another failed conference. “We can’t leave Cancún empty-handed,” she said.

Despite these disputes, the overall atmosphere of the talks is vastly improved from a year ago in Copenhagen, in large part because the United States and China are not at each other’s throats. Contributing to that more relaxed mood, the delegates are not awaiting the arrival of 140 heads of state, who flew into Copenhagen for the final hours of negotiations and raised the temperature beyond the boiling point.

“There is more camaraderie here, more dialogue, more intensive engagement and less shadow boxing than in Copenhagen, because China has moved on the transparency issue,” Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, said in an interview. “That is very important.”

Mr. Ramesh proposed a plan for bridging the gap between the United State and China on verification, by establishing a voluntary program known as international consultation and analysis. Under the plan, known as I.C.A., countries would declare their emissions reductions targets and provide regular reports on how they were meeting them and gauging their own progress.

There would be no international monitors or inspectors, and no penalties for failing to reach stated targets. Smaller countries would have less frequent and less detailed reporting requirements than major emitters.

Mr. Ramesh’s concept has been broadly accepted here, but there are still disputes over how detailed the agreement should be and how soon the reporting requirements would take effect.

Mr. Stern said he wanted these matters addressed explicitly and not, as he put it, “at the 50,000-foot level.” Other major emitters, including Brazil and South Africa, are balking at providing the kind of detailed reports that the United States is demanding. China’s position is unclear, but Mr. Ramesh said he spent four hours with the Chinese delegation on Sunday and that he was confident that China would not stand in the way of a deal because of the verification issue.

He noted that China has recently leapfrogged over the United States to become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. “They know the world’s radar is on them,” Mr. Ramesh said. “If transparency becomes the stumbling block, China doesn’t want to be blamed. If China is the only party holding out, they won’t collapse the negotiations.”


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