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By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
BONN, Germany, June 5 (Reuters) - China plans to cap its soaring emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible but has not yet decided when, Beijing’s top negotiator at U.N. climate talks said on Thursday.
Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, also welcomed U.S. measures to combat global warming, saying both nations were “working very hard to address climate change”.
“We will try our utmost to peak as early as possible,” Xie told reporters on the sidelines of U.N. talks on global warming in Bonn, Germany, referring to greenhouse gases. “Opinions of the scientists and scholars differ quite a lot.”
Actions by China and the United States, the top emitters of greenhouse gases, will be benchmarks for the ambitions of other nations when world leaders meet at a summit in Paris in late 2015 to agree a new U.N. pact to slow global warming.
On Monday, a senior advisor to the Chinese government said China was considering imposing a cap on its carbon emissions when its next five-year plan starts in 2016.
Xie said no decisions had been taken about the level of any cap, nor when it would be announced.
A cap would be a radical change for Beijing. Until now, China has merely sought to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it needs to burn more energy to raise living standards for its 1.3 billion citizens.
“We are working very hard to find a balanced equilibrium between economic development and environmental protection,” Xie said. He said China hoped to define which measures it will present to the Paris summit in the first half of 2015.
Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters it was an open secret that Beijing has been studying ways to cap its emissions.
“And that is of course going to have huge, positive implications and will be a very important contribution to the world’s effort to cap emissions,” she said.
Xie said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s climate envoy, Todd Stern, called him on June 2 to brief him about a U.S. plan to cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 as the cornerstone of U.S. policies.
“One thing in common is that we are both working very hard to address climate change,” Xie said.
On Monday, He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, suggested at a conference in Beijing that China would set a cap on its emissions in a coming five-year plan from 2016.
Carbon emissions in the coal-reliant economy, which have more than tripled since 1990, were likely to continue to grow until 2030, He said. Rising emissions from coal plants cause pollution and health problems, as well as climate change.
A U.N. scientific panel says climate change will cause more droughts, heatwaves, floods and rising seas.
Xie said that China had reduced the amount of carbon dioxide it burns per yuan of economic output by 28.6 percent from 2005 levels, on track for its existing goal of reducing the carbon intensity of the economy by 42 percent by 2020.
He said that energy efficiency and measures to promote wind and solar power had slowed the rise of China’s greenhouse gases by 2.5 billion tonnes - almost double Japan’s annual emissions.
In Brussels, the Group of Seven industrialised nations gave their backing on Thursday to a climate change deal in 2015 after the U.S. promises revived momentum.
Two weeks before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its plan to cut power plant emissions, China’s He Jiankun visited Washington with two academics from Tsinghua University and had meetings including with U.S. officials.
Ailun Yang, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, which organised the meetings, said the Chinese delegation wanted to learn more about U.S. policies to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
“He was inspired by the upcoming EPA rules. Even though he didn’t know what would be in it (at the time), he knew the significance of it,” she said. (With extra reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington, Editing by Robin Pomeroy/Ruth Pitchford)