Hope for progress with China despite friction

China and the U.S. are working together on cutting greenhouse gas emissions despite the deadlock over a broader global agreement on fighting climate change, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

"My hope is that we will see continued progress on the issues. They are vitally important," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, said in Shanghai following U.N. climate talks in northern China's Tianjin last week.

Modest progress at the Tianjin talks was eclipsed by the acrimonious standoff between China and the U.S. over monitoring and verification of efforts by developing nations to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

Countries remain at odds over how to split the burden of emission cuts and how to verify them.

The U.S. wants China and other developing countries to commit to mandatory, rather than just voluntary goals. Beijing, meanwhile, accuses the U.S. and other wealthy countries of failing to make cuts in carbon dioxide emissions — created in part by burning fossil fuels like oil and coal — commensurate with their massive historical contribution to the problem.

China's 2011-16 five-year-plan, a national economic planning blueprint now being drafted, calls for reducing the amount of energy used per dollar of GDP by 17 percent and for cutting fossil-fuel emissions by about 20 percent from 2010 levels, the newspaper Shanghai Securities News reported Wednesday, citing a source involved in drafting the plan.

The country has shut down thousands of heavily polluting power plants, smelters and steel mills as part of its effort to meet a goal of cutting carbon-based emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. But at the same time, the fast-growing country of 1.3 billion has become the world's biggest emitter.

Jackson said that despite a barrage of complaints from China and other developing countries that the U.S. and other wealthy nations are failing to commit to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, American society is making clear progress.

"Part of the message I've hopefully conveyed to my counterparts and the other people I've met during this trip is that the U.S. is already started on reducing carbon emissions," Jackson told reporters.

"We regulate greenhouse gases in the U.S. We monitor and require emissions to be reported in the U.S. We have rules that are phasing in, slowly, regulations for reducing emissions from stationary sources," she said.

Despite acrimony at the diplomatic level, those working on China's own environmental protection are keen to move ahead on cooperation aimed at improving the country's heavily polluted air, water and soil, Jackson said.

"I have found nothing but interest and enthusiasm among my counterparts for making further gains. It's simply because of the fact that China cannot be fully sustainable on the track it is on without considering issues related to air and water quality," she said, noting the daunting challenges also faced in the U.S.

Jackson was due later Wednesday to visit a joint air quality monitoring project in Shanghai, which aims to monitor and measure real-time emissions data, which she described as "crucial for goal setting," as China works to improve its own air quality.

Jackson did not elaborate, however, on any details of specific progress that might help to bridge the logjam over climate change goals before next month's meeting in Cancun, Mexico, which aims to secure a binding deal to curb greenhouse gases.

The talks are meant to craft a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which legally mandated modest emissions reductions and expires in 2012. The U.S. never ratified that treaty.

(This version CORRECTS Drops incorrect reference in second paragraph to Jackson attending talks in Tianjin)