Climate talks put top emitter China in hot seat

Tianjin, China –The world's top greenhouse polluter hosts week-long UN climate talks from Monday aimed at sealing a broader pact to fight global warming and helping poorer nations with money and clean-energy technology.

The meeting in the northern port city of Tianjin will be the first time China has hosted the tortuous UN talks over what succeeds the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the key treaty on climate change, which expires in late 2012.

The United Nations says rich and poor countries need to agree on a tougher pact that curbs fossil fuel emissions blamed for heating up the planet.

Scientists say the world is on track for temperatures to rise well beyond 2C, risking greater weather extremes like this year's floods in Pakistan and drought in Russia.

"There is much at stake going into next week's Tianjin meeting and later in the year," wrote Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute, a US environmental group.

"Many people are wondering how governments are going to overcome their differences and ensure that progress is made in 2010," Morgan wrote in a commentary on Tianjin.

Negotiators from nearly 200 governments failed to agree last year on a new legally binding treaty. A meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009 ended in rancor between rich and developing countries, especially China, and produced a non-binding political accord with many gaps.

Officials in Tianjin hope to foster stronger agreement on specifics. These include pledges to curb emissions and how to measure such actions internationally, transfers of adaptation funds and green technology to poorer countries, and over support for carbon-absorbing forests in Brazil, Indonesia and elsewhere.

More broadly, they hope to dispel some of the distrust that hobbled talks in 2009 and festered after Copenhagen.

If governments fail to score even modest advances, that will cloud chances of solid progress at the next big UN climate meeting, in Cancun, Mexico, late this year, and that would make reaching a legally binding treaty in 2011 all the more difficult.

That would leave less time for the world to figure out how to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and would add to uncertainties weighing on companies unsure where climate policy and carbon markets are headed after 2012.

"The expectations going into Tianjin are to lay a foundation for Cancun, to create an atmosphere of trust," Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a US-based group, said in a conference call with reporters this week.

A key worry is the United States, which never ratified Kyoto, will not follow through on the Obama administration's emissions cut pledge after Congress failed to pass a climate bill.

"We hope that Tianjin will further advance some consensus on these issues so that the Cancun meeting can reach a preliminary summary that is settled on," said Yang Fuqiang, WWF director of Global Climate Solutions.

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