Working with China on climate change

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. Senior members of the US Congress have been courting China all week. They're trying to get Chinese officials to agree to cuts in air pollution in advance of December's global climate meeting in Copenhagen. That conference is going to hammer out a new treaty on cutting global warming pollution. In a few minutes, we'll hear about a group of Nobel Prize winners pushing for a muscular treaty, but first, The World's Mary Kay Magistad on US lawmakers in Beijing.

MARY KAY MAGISTAD: Senator John Kerry has been working on climate change issues since he teamed up with Al Gore on the subject more than 20 years ago � and over that time, he's talked about the issue before with Chinese officials. He said this week was different.

SENATOR KERRY: I will say, unequivocally, that these have been the most constructive and the most productive discussions that we have ever had � or I have ever had with Chinese officials.

MAGISTAD: He said Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, in particular, told him that China's leaders recognize the threat of climate change, will act to reduce emissions, will cooperate more with the international community and will play a constructive role in Copenhagen.

KERRY: We did agree to pursue immediate opportunities for bilateral cooperation between the United States and China, things that we can do now, immediately, on clean energy. And we agreed that we need to be concrete on these measures. Vice-Premier Li said �let's do it.�

MAGISTAD: Over on the House delegation side, there was similar optimism among most of the 6 representatives who were visiting China this week. But not for Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence.

JIM SENSENBRENNER: I am very discouraged at the conversations we have had with all our Chinese counterparts during this visit. It's business as usual for China. The message that I received is that China is going to do it their way, regardless of what the rest of the world negotiates at Copenhagen.

MAGISTAD: China refuses to be held to specific mandatory targets set for developed countries as they were in the Kyoto protocol. China says as a developing country, it should be cut more slack. It's been pointed out that a country with $2 trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves is hardly at the same level as Uganda. But at least China has set some of its own emission reduction targets. Massachusetts representative Ed Markey, a Democrat, chairs the House Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence. He says it helps that the US now has an administration that's serious about setting specific targets to reduce emissions. But getting China to agree to similar steps is going to be a challenge.

ED MARKEY: This is going to be one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations in the history of the world. There is no question about that.

MAGISTAD: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she's at least hopeful of progress � because the need for progress is so urgent. She also made a point of saying that while this week's visit was mostly about climate change, she and the delegation did bring up human rights concerns in every meeting with senior Chinese officials.

NANCY PELOSI: In our conversations, we brought up the concern in the Congress, on a bilateral basis, about China's human rights record in China and Tibet. We encouraged conversations with his Holiness the Dalai Lama or his representatives.

MAGISTAD: That's more than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did when she was here, to the disappointment of dissidents and human rights groups. When a journalist needled Pelosi about not publicly visiting dissidents this time, she said, �But we did tell the President of China what we think on the issue of human rights.� She's also made the argument on this visit that having clean air to breathe and an Earth to live on are human rights as well. For The World, I'm Mary Kay Magistad, in Beijing.