As the United States lags on climate legislation, China is poised to join the European Union in claiming "front-runner" status among nations battling climate change, the U.N. climate chief said Monday.
Yvo de Boer said in an Associated Press interview that China is leaping ahead of the United States with domestic plans for more energy efficiency, renewable sources of power, cuts in vehicle pollution and closures of dirty plants.
The development marks a dramatic turnabout. The United States, under former President George W. Bush's administration, long cited inaction by China and India as the reason for rejecting mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases.
"China and India have announced very ambitious national climate change plans. In the case of China, so ambitious that it could well become the front-runner in the fight to address climate change," de Boer said. "The big question mark is the U.S."
He spoke on the eve of a U.N. summit of 100 world leaders intended to rally momentum for crafting a new global climate pact at Copenhagen, Denmark in December. Bush had rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for cutting global emissions of warming gases based on its exclusion of major developing nations like China and India.
Chinese President Hu Jintao will announce new plans to fight global warming at a U.N. summit on climate change on Tuesday. China already has said it is seeking to use 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
China and the U.S. together account for about 40 per cent of all the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other industrial warming gases.
De Boer said he also was encouraged by Japan's new goal of a 25 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.
President Barack Obama has been trying to build momentum for a new climate pact to succeed the Kyoto accord that required mandatory cuts in atmospheric warming gases but expires at the end of 2012. His administration has announced a target of returning to 1990 levels of greenhouse emissions by 2020.
But with Congress moving slowly on a measure to curb emissions, the United States could soon find itself with little influence when 120 countries convene in Copenhagen.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in article published Monday that "the negotiations are proceeding so slowly that a deal is in grave danger."
He promised to attend the Copenhagen talks and called on other heads of state to join him for "a historic moment: the ultimate test of global co-operation." Environment ministers are scheduled to be the highest-ranking officials there.
"If we miss this opportunity, there will be no second chance sometime in the future, no later way to undo the catastrophic damage to the environment we will cause," he wrote in an article Newsweek.
Britain's Climate Secretary Ed Miliband sees reasons to be hopeful that a deal could be reached.
"Actually, I think when you look at the jigsaw pieces on the board, there are reasons to be optimistic. Japan has just upped its ambition and said it's going to cut its emissions by 25 per cent by 2020. India said that it will quantify its actions in terms of emissions by 2020. That is a new statement. We are expecting from (China's) President Hu (Jintao) tomorrow statements about where China is going," Miliband said.
The U.N. summit on climate change Tuesday and the G20 summit in Pittsburgh at the end of this week are intended to add pressure on the United States and other rich nations to commit to cuts and cough up billions of dollars to help developing nations install new technologies and take other actions to adapt to climate change.
The House passed a bill this year that would set the United States' first federal mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. Factories, power plants and other sources would be required to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 per cent by mid-century.
The EU is urging other rich countries to match its pledge to cut emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and has said it would cut up to 30 per cent if other rich countries follow suit.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Monday the Copenhagen meeting could end in deadlock unless all participants agree to sweeping cuts in greenhouse gases.
"The public in Europe would not accept (such cuts) in the EU if the rest of the world does not move too," he told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Barroso warned that inaction on climate change would cut the world's gross economic output by five per cent a year.
"We must see that the costs of inaction are higher from an economic point of view than the costs of action," he told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
A new climate report released Monday by a climate initiative led by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says 10 million jobs could be created by 2020, if developing nations agree to big cuts in greenhouse gases.
The initiative by Blair and The Climate Group, a London-based non-profit advocacy organization, said it hoped the new research would help break the "deadlock" in global climate talks.
The report is based on computer modeling by Cambridge University economists. It also shows a global climate agreement could increase the world's GDP by 0.8 per cent by 2020, as compared with the projected gross domestic product with no climate action.
"In economic terms, certainly in the medium and long-term, it's hugely to our economic benefit to get a global agreement," he told reporters at a New York hotel Sunday.
Blair acknowledged the pain of short-term investment, particularly during a global financial crisis, but called the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations "the moment when we move from a campaign to a policy program."
Blair also said climate change was one key area where his ideas diverged from those of Bush, whose administration claimed for years the Kyoto accord would have cost the U.S. economy 5 million jobs if Bush had not rejected it.
"I can't say I ever investigated that particular claim in detail," said Blair, who was Bush's closest ally on the Iraq war - a stance that ultimately contributed to Blair's decline in popularity at home and his stepping down as both Labor Party leader and prime minister.
"But all I can tell you from our perspective in the U.K. - and if you look at the rest of Europe - we have not been losing jobs as a result of taking action on climate change. If anything, we've been gaining jobs."