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China Says Funding Key in Climate Change Talks

Smoke rises from the chimneys of a thermal power plant as a worker stands on a crane at a shipyard in Shanghai, Nov. 5, 2013.
China said it is willing to take a flexible approach at global climate change talks scheduled for later this month in Poland. In the talks, representatives from 190 countries will seek to forge a new global climate change deal that will take effect in 2020. But China also said richer nations need to do more to help developing countries cut emissions.

China’s top climate change official, Xie Zhenhua, said that when the country attends the climate change talks, which begin in Warsaw next week, it will be willing to be flexible as long as the talks are fair and recognize that developing and developed countries have common, but different responsibilities.

Xie also urged richer nations to help developing countries cut their emissions, as they pledged in 2009.

"We hope developed countries can keep their commitments and the treaty they have agreed to launch fast-start funds. We hope they can implement the $30 billion fast-start fund by 2015 and provide a long-term fund of $100 billion per year and put forward specific time tables and roadmaps to help the developing countries cope with climate change," stated Xie.

Xie is also the vice director of China’s top economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission. He was speaking at a press conference in Beijing Tuesday.

Xie’s remark echoes comments made by U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern last month. Stern said a more flexible approach was needed to create a pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. He also said that individual nations should be able to set their own timetables and commitments for reducing carbon emissions.

Environmentalists in Beijing say flexibility does not mean that China will change its overall position - that developed nations need to carry the brunt of the responsibility - but it does mean that Beijing is looking to forge consensus and consider the positions of all of the parties involved to try and find areas where their interests dovetail with other countries.

“So by saying that they will take a more flexible approach here does not mean that China’s position will change. It means that way they will be more agile in the way they deal with issues,” said Yang Fuqiang, with the National Resources Defense Council in Beijing.

China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, which are blamed by scientists for causing global warming. As China has rapidly expanded over the past three decades to become the world's second largest economy, its environment has paid a punishing price.

The public has grown increasingly concerned about air pollution in particular and the costs the public and the environment have had to pay in exchange for development.

Both its status as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and internal problems are pushing China’s leaders to change.

“I think they clearly feel the pressure not only from the other countries but also internally. I think the air pollution episodes recently has been a very strong call for them to take action, not only to mitigate greenhouse gases, which has profound domestic implications, but for ordinary Chinese citizens on the street,” said Li Shuo, who focuses on climate change and energy for Greenpeace East Asia in Beijing.

But for China to change, it needs to take actions to reduce its reliance on coal as a source of energy. In recent weeks, the government has announced a wide range of plans to cut its dependence on the cheap energy source, boost its usage of nuclear plants and gas energy and tackle the county’s festering problem of air pollution.

It is also experimenting with carbon cap-and-trade programs across the country.

The Chinese government has set a goal of cutting its emissions per unit of the GDP to 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.