President Obama's envoy for climate change has dashed hopes of a bilateral deal on climate change during next month's presidential trip to China.
"There is no agreement per se," said Todd Stern, adding that there had been no intention of cutting a separate bilateral deal. He summed up the mood between Chinese and U.S. negotiators this way: "We're pushing them, and they're pushing us."
Obama's trip will focus on clean energy cooperation, and aligning Chinese and American positions ahead of the upcoming global climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
However, Stern admitted that differences remain, particularly over U.S. demands for China to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
"They absolutely have to cap their emissions in the sense of having them reduced significantly as compared to where their trend line is," Stern said. "China could make a reduction twice as ambitious as the U.S. is doing, and that would still involve their emissions going up somewhere from where they are now."
But Beijing is resisting U.S. pressure, arguing that it is using other measures. It already has announced a goal of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2010. China also is planting trees over an area the size of California.
Zhou Fenqi from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences echoes China's line that emission caps would damage its development: "We could not limit the amount of food for a child, because a child needs to grow — he needs it more than an adult. We cannot do caps."
China is now the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the International Energy Agency. But China likes to point out that its cumulative emissions are one-quarter of America's.
"The existing situation is not made by China," said Huang Renwei, also from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "It's 100 years ago, so the developed countries should share more responsibilities than China. The U.S. shouldn't make this excuse and say China has more responsibility than U.S."
That's why China wants the U.S. to make much larger emission cuts than those pledged. Beijing also wants developed countries to contribute a portion of their GDP — between 0.5 and 1 percent — to developing countries to help adapt to global warming. And it's keen for more technology transfers.
But China is unlikely to get much financial assistance from the U.S.
"There are various kinds of technology cooperation, technology efforts that could include China," said Envoy Stern. "I would not think there will be large amounts of financial assistance going to China as compared to other developing countries, just because of China's relatively advanced state of development."
Stern defended U.S. progress, saying Obama has done more to reduce emissions than anyone in U.S. history. He also noted that the U.S. has pledged $80 billion toward clean energy.
But young Chinese environmentalists are disappointed with what they see as a lack of U.S. leadership on the issue. "They are demanding that we meet their demands," said Sarah Pang, "but they're not doing it themselves. The U.S. should set an example for the rest of the world."
In the meantime, China is moving fast. Its goal is to produce 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It already is the world's largest producer of solar panels, and it will overtake the U.S. as the top manufacturer of wind turbines this year.
Stern warned that the U.S. must take action: "The competitive danger that we have with China is what will happen if we don't move aggressively into the world of green tech and clean energy, because that's the world of economic development in the 21st century, and the Chinese are starting to move there."
On prospects for a deal in Copenhagen, Stern is hedging his bets: "I think there's a deal to be had, but that doesn't mean we're going to get it."