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China ready to take lead in war on global warming

China will unveil “impressive” measures at a high-powered summit in New York today that could help to unlock global talks on climate change, according to the UN climate chief.

Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, predicted that China would become a world leader in fighting global warming.

President Hu Jintao of China and President Obama are due to address a gathering of more than a hundred world leaders at UN headquarters in New York today in an effort to agree on cuts in global emissions at a crucial Copenhagen conference in December.

Mr de Boer said that Chinese officials promised to unveil an “impressive suite of actions [that] will take China into a leadership position”.

Mr Hu is expected to lay down a “carbon intensity” goal for his country, the world’s top emitter of the greenhouse gases held responsible for global warming. “I hope that after President Hu’s speech the international community will recognise the leadership role played by China. I hope the United States equals and surpasses that role at Copenhagen,” Mr de Boer said.

Talks on setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 have been hobbled by suspicion between rich countries, particularly the United States, and rapidly developing nations such as China and India.

Mr de Boer likened the talks to “four guys sitting on a bridge. Are they going to jump at the same time? Or will three of the four remain seated? The big concern is that one will go out on a limb, taking climate change steps that the others will not take, and the end result will be job-shifting from one country to another.”

Mr de Boer suggested that China’s announcement could help President Obama to muster domestic support for US action on climate change. “The sense that China is doing nothing to address climate change is a fantasy,” he said. “You cannot get US agreement on climate change without that fantasy being exposed. If American voters are given the feeling their competitors are doing nothing, then they are right to be cautious about going out on a limb.”

Mr Obama pledged in his election campaign to slash US greenhouse gas emissions. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate Bill in June that would cut emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

However, Mr Obama is embroiled in a bruising battle over his proposed healthcare reform — raising the prospect that the US Senate will not pass its version of climate change legislation by the time of the Copenhagen conference.

Mr de Boer held out hope that the Senate could still agree cuts by December, but he said it was not essential for Mr Obama to have legislation in hand to reach a deal. “If the US representative comes to Copenhagen and signs up to a target, that is good enough for the international community,” he said. “He does not have to show his credit rating. People will take him at his word.”

Ed Miliband, the British Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said there was reason to be optimistic that a deal could be reached at Copenhagen. He pointed to recent projections by Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of an influential 2006 study on climate change, indicating that measures already announced would reduce global emissions from 50 gigatonnes today to 48 gigatonnes in 2020; not far short of the 44 gigatonnes required to limit global warming to 2C.

The International Energy Agency reported yesterday that the recession had already caused the sharpest fall in world greenhouse gas emissions in 40 years, with a projected reduction of about 2.6 per cent by the end of the year as industrial activity around the planet is curtailed.

Gordon Brown is flying to New York today to chair a round-table discussion at the climate summit. The Prime Minister will not, however, get the chance for a formal one-on-one meeting with Mr Obama, either during the UN session or at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh later in the week.

Mr Obama, who made clear his displeasure at the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, has cleared his diary for a lunch with African leaders today.

British officials denied that Mr Brown had been snubbed, insisting that the pair would see each other frequently at the UN and at the G20 summit. They claimed that the US President was holding only three bilateral meetings, with the leaders of China, Russia and Japan.

Mr Brown last addressed the UN General Assembly two years ago, soon after assuming the role of Prime Minister. On that visit he was taken to Camp David for extensive talks with President Bush.

Mr Brown raised the prospect yesterday of turning the Copenhagen talks into a summit of world leaders. “If it is necessary to clinch the deal, I will personally go to Copenhagen to achieve it — and I will be urging my fellow leaders to do so too,” he wrote in Newsweek magazine.


Middle East

Today President Obama moderates talks between Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. In his address to the UN General Assembly tomorrow Mr Obama is expected to try to relaunch the peace process. Mr Netanyahu will address the UN on Thursday, Mr Abbas on Friday. Prognosis The omens are not good. George Mitchell, the US envoy, returned empty-handed from Israel last week. Mr Obama has demanded that Israel stop settlement building in the West Bank and Mr Abbas says this is a precondition for talks. Mr Netanyahu wants only a limited freeze.

Nuclear weapons

On Thursday Mr Obama chairs a special session of the UN Security Council on nuclear disarmament, likely to be dominated by Iran’s nuclear programme. Foreign ministers from the E3+3 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US) discuss the issue tomorrow before October 1 talks with Iran. President Ahmadinejad of Iran addresses the UN tomorrow. Prognosis Hopes for agreement on disarmament brightened last week after the US agreed to change its missile shield plan. But the question of Iran’s alleged nuclear programme remains — as does the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. Iran solutions will have to wait until the October talks and beyond, but diplomats will be looking for a change in Russia’s attitude.


On Friday world leaders decamp from New York to Pittsburgh for a G20 meeting on financial regulation. Issues include bankers’ pay and attempts to stabilise the global financial system once stimulus packages are rolled back. Prognosis Ministers have agreed elements to be included in curbs on bankers’ bonuses, but some see this as a red herring next to the challenge of restoring global financial stability and the imbalance between the huge US trade deficit and the corresponding surplus in China.

From September 22, 2009