WASHINGTON – A day before President Bush's climate talks, China and other developing nations said Wednesday the need to provide food, shelter and clothes for their citizens must come ahead of global warming concerns.
"For a developing country, the main task is to reduce poverty," Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China's national development and reform commission, told a forum sponsored by the Center for Clean Air Policy, a think tank.
Mexico's environment minister agreed. "We have always to bear in mind that half our population is at the poverty line," said Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada. "We are also extremely concerned about the consequences, the adverse affects of climate change."
They expressed a strong preference for the climate negotiations later this year sponsored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, instead of Bush's meeting Thursday and Friday for 16 "major emitter" countries, including China and India.
"All these discussions should be taken within the framework of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol," Xie said.
The 175-nation Kyoto pact rejected by Bush requires industrial nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases and set an average target of a 5 percent cut below 1990 emissions levels by 2012. A U.N. climate summit Monday in New York sought to inject momentum behind December's annual climate treaty conference in Bali, Indonesia, for discussing what will succeed the Kyoto climate pact that expires in 2012.
Sergio Serra, Brazil's first ambassador in charge of global warming issues, said the United States must realize that developing countries are trying to curb their emissions while also lifting the welfare of their citizens.
"It is a myth to think the developing countries are doing nothing to address climate change," he said.
As for the U.S.-sponsored talks later this week, he said, "We saw this as ... a very positive sign that this country is resuming the leadership that it always should have had."
Portuguese environment minister Humberto Rosa, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, said it would be unfair to expect developing nations to adopt firm targets for cutting carbon emissions, the way the biggest industrialized polluters should.
"We want developing nations to do their share. This is not a moment in time for them to have such targets," he said. "We don't depart from the same situation; we do not have the same responsibilities."
On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the U.N. negotiating process as "the only forum" where the issues can be decided. Before 80 world leaders, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for "action, action, action."
At a House hearing Wednesday, three U.N. envoys on climate change and the German environment minister urged U.S. lawmakers to commit to binding caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Many of the visiting officials have sought to blunt an argument made by the White House and some congressional allies that mandatory caps would harm the U.S. economy. The visiting officials have been arguing that new markets in carbon trading and in technology to reduce emissions are economic opportunities. They say that improving energy efficiency will improve economic efficiency.
"The European Union is convinced that our climate protection efforts provide great opportunities and the transformation to a low carbon economy will enhance our competitiveness," Germany's environment minister, Signmar Gabriel told the panel.
But lingering opposition to mandatory caps was evident at the hearing.
"A decade after Kyoto, it is clear to me that the treaty produced far too few results. It is a failure," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told the officials.
The chairman of the panel, Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, said that the visitors have a difficult case to make in persuading the White House of the need for mandatory caps.
"The world has been asked to Washington to discuss this issue this week," said Markey, D-Mass. "But it is a little bit like being invited to a prayer breakfast with a group of fellow believers, but the meeting is hosted by an atheist."