Pelosi's New Tactic: Telling China Environment Is A Human Right

06/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BEIJING — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she remains hopeful of reaching an agreement with China on a common approach to climate change ahead of a conference in December in Copenhagen, despite considerable pessimism among other members of her congressional delegation.

The group met with top Chinese officials and government advisers this week seeking a consensus on positions to take to the Copenhagen conference, which will try to forge a new international agreement on targets and steps to reduce carbon emissions.

No consensus was reached during the delegation's visit, and from the participants' remarks, the outlook for one appeared cloudy at best.

Acknowledging the differing views, Pelosi said, "I am hopeful because this is very urgent."

Pelosi has promised to press for passage of U.S. climate legislation this year, and a bill requiring factories, refineries and power plants to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and six other "greenhouse" gases by roughly 80 percent by mid-century was approved by a House committee last week, a step being considered by the full House later this year.

While welcoming calls for cooperation, China says global warming is largely the responsibility of rich nations which should provide funds and technologies to developing countries to cut carbon emissions.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and a congressional representative to the 1997 Kyoto conference on climate change, said China appeared to be moving backward in addressing carbon reduction.

"I am very discouraged at the conversations that we have had with all of our Chinese counterparts during this visit," Sensenbrenner said.

"The message that I received was that China was going to do it their way regardless of what the rest of the world negotiates in Copenhagen," he said.

Sensenbrenner said a Chinese proposal to reduce its emissions by 20 percent per unit of GDP from 2005 to 2010 would still result in a net increase because of the country's high rate of economic growth.

He said a top Chinese climate change strategist, Pan Jiahua, told him Thursday that U.S. and Australian proposals to cut emissions were insufficient, while calling demands on developing economies such as China unrealistic.

"I am less than optimistic" about the attitudes of officials and advisers, he said.

Speaking earlier at Beijing's elite Tsinghua University, Pelosi said combating global warming represented a new challenge that both governments must tackle jointly.

"We are all in this together," Pelosi told about 200 students and faculty who applauded enthusiastically throughout the 45-minute session. "The impact of climate change is a tremendous risk to the security and well-being of our countries."

The five-day trip comes as President Barack Obama's administration has emphasized climate change as a new area where the two governments can broaden their engagement. The two countries are the biggest emitters of the carbon gases blamed for causing higher temperatures. Both governments are staking out positions ahead of the Copenhagen conference.

In a meeting Wednesday, the head of China's national legislature, Wu Bangguo, told Pelosi that climate change was a common challenge and that Beijing stood ready to work with Washington.

Pelosi said that concerns over human rights and Tibet were also raised in all the group's meetings, including ones Wednesday with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

The speaker's visit is part of a flurry of contacts between Washington and Beijing that highlight their wide-ranging cooperation on issues including North Korea's nuclear program and combatting the global economic slump.

Next week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner travels to Beijing.