China keeping mum on climate commitments at South African summit: Kent

First Posted: 12/06/11 01:30 PM ET Updated: 12/07/11 03:25 PM ET

OTTAWA - China won't put its money where its mouth is at a major summit on climate change, Canada's environment minister said Tuesday.

Peter Kent said the Chinese have kept mum behind closed doors at climate talks in the South African coastal city of Durban.

The world's No. 1 polluter became the surprise rock star of the summit after it opened the once-firmly shut door to binding targets to lower its emissions. The lead Chinese negotiator told reporters that China is open to legally binding targets after 2020 as long as several conditions are met.

One condition is rich countries such as Canada agreeing to take on a second round of commitments under the expiring Kyoto Protocol something the federal Conservatives say Canada won't do.

But it appears China is saying one thing publicly and another privately.

Kent said Canada's top negotiator, Guy Saint-Jacques, put the Chinese on the spot during negotiations Tuesday.

"Ambassador Saint-Jacques said that he would welcome, and he felt the conference would welcome, China officially communicating to us the details of those news reports," Kent said.

"The Chinese delegate remained silent."

The chief U.S. negotiator, Todd Stern, also doubted China would accept binding restrictions for itself.

"It is not my impression that there has been any change at all in the Chinese position in regard to a legally binding agreement," Stern told reporters after he met Chinese delegates.

Officials from the United States and European Union told The Associated Press that in private meetings China refuses to accept international limits on its greenhouse-gas output.

There is speculation the Chinese mounted the charm offensive to shift the blame to other countries should the Durban talks falter.

The Chinese shot back at Canada on Tuesday. China's official news agency, Xinhua, published a commentary criticizing Canada for refusing to sign on to a second Kyoto commitment.

"There have been major setbacks on the two key deliverables," Xinhua said.

"One is about the Kyoto Protocol. Last Friday in Ottawa, Canada made this a difficult task.

"This goes against the philosophy of the current negotiation. On board with Canada are Japan and Russia. China backs the Kyoto Protocol as the cornerstone of the climate regime."

The environment minister said Canada and other countries are still waiting for China to spell out what commitments it would be willing to undertake.

"The Chinese delegation has provided no details of what was hinted as in the weekend news reports," Kent said.

"We're ever-hopeful. Certainly, if that were to materialize, that would be a positive step forward by the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitter. But, as I say, they have not volunteered that information."

China is part of a quartet of emerging powerhouses putting pressure on wealthy nations to extend their Kyoto commitments. The pact expires next year.

The so-called BASIC bloc of Brazil, South Africa, India and China say they will step up their own efforts to reduce greenhouse gases if the world's richest countries take on a second round of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

During his Tuesday address, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged industrial countries to sign on for a second commitment period.

with files from The Associated Press

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