E&E News: COPENHAGEN: U.S., China may be near 'transparency' compromise

COPENHAGEN – There’s talk here today of a possible U.S.-China compromise over the transparency of developing countries’ emissions data.

Chinese and U.S. officials this afternoon homed in on what many are calling an obvious solution to a tortured problem: developing new guidelines through the reports that China and other countries already submit to the U.N. climate regime.

“I think the issue now is to work out the exact language,” said Ailun Yang, climate director for Greenpeace China. “I’m very confident that this can be resolved.”

The possible solution comes just hours after Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) declared in a major speech here that the ability to make sure that China, India and other countries achieve the emission cuts they say they have promised to make is key to U.S. climate legislation. Without “transparency,” he said, it’s unlikely the U.S. Senate will approve domestic legislation to cut carbon emissions.

Shortly after his speech, Kerry met with China’s top climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua. When the Chinese delegation spoke to reporters after the meeting, negotiator Su Wei indicated that U.S. needs could likely be met through the U.N. climate regime’s national communications.

Officially, the Chinese position remains unchanged: Developing countries will cut carbon only voluntarily, and the only measures open for international inspection will be those supported by international funding.

But, agreed Alex Wang, senior attorney in China for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “What Wei said left room for compromise. I think there’s a way forward.”

Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed nations are required to submit “national communications” annually to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The reports cover emissions in all greenhouse gases and sinks and cover all sectors of the economy.

Developing countries also submit these papers, but under far more general guidelines. The frequency with which they submit documentation is up to each individual country.

Su’s inference, analysts said, was that the countries might negotiate a way that developing countries might add more information to the reports and submit them on a regular basis. Barbara Finamore, who runs NRDC’s China program, said what matters most is understanding the methodology and assumptions countries use to measure emissions reductions.

China, for example, has pledged to cut the rate of carbon growth by 40 to 45 percent relative to economic growth. To believe any self-congratulatory announcements out of China on cuts, analysts said, they need to understand exactly how the country came to the number – something they currently can’t do because not enough data from China are available.

One of the barriers, Wang said, appears to have been a “communication issue.” Chinese officials have been under the impression that the United States wants factory-level inspections of their domestic efforts to cut carbon – rather than the macro-level data and clearly spelled-out methodology officials now apparently are making clear they need.

It’s unclear whether other countries are involved in the discussions over international verification – or “transparency,” which as of yesterday appears to be the preferred new word from U.S. delegates.

But Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, told E&E earlier today that the United States has not been clear about what it wants to see. “I’ve been telling the Americans, ‘Let’s be transparent about the word “transparency.” What exactly does that mean?’” he said.

Another barrier to a deal is more problematic: The Chinese government fears that not meeting its target will lead to unilateral trade restrictions. It’s a valid concern, given U.S. climate legislation that threatens an import tax against countries that don’t cut emissions.

That provision is in a bill that passed the House over the summer but has not yet moved in the Senate. If the provision sticks, China and other countries will still have a decade to negotiate before the tariffs kick in.

Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2009, E&E Publishing, LLC. www.ClimateWire.com

Photo by Polska Zielona Sieć, courtesy of a Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License.