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China Lashes Out at U.S. at Climate Conference

COPENHAGEN - A diplomatic spat on Friday between the U.S. and China, the world's top two polluters, highlighted a difficult turn in negotiations for an agreement to stop global warming.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said he was "shocked" by comments that his U.S. counterpart, Todd Stern, made earlier this week. Stern said China is too prosperous to be included in a group of poor countries who may receive U.S. taxpayer funds to help them cope with the consequences of climate change.

"I don't want to say the gentleman (Stern) is ignorant ... but I think he lacked common sense ... or he's extremely irresponsible," He Yafei, one of China's top diplomats, said at a news conference.

Such funds are one of the most contentious issues at the Copenhagen climate change summit, where representatives from 192 countries are negotiating a deal to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Poor countries including Brazil say they will refuse to sign an agreement unless they receive so-called "mitigation" and "adaptation" funds from rich countries. The funds would help developing countries overhaul their economies to pollute less and deal with future physical damage from climate change, such as rising seas.

Evo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, says the pool of money to be transferred to poor countries should reach $10 billion a year in the short term and potentially "hundreds of billions" of dollars by 2030 .

Stern, a lead negotiator in Copenhagen for the Obama administration, said Friday that his comments were "a bit unfortunate." But Stern said his position remained unchanged.

"The U.S. is fully in support of significant financial assistance for developing countries. It continues to be my view that such assistance must go to countries most in need," Stern told reporters Friday.

China holds about $800 billion in U.S. Treasuries and its economy has emerged more quickly than the U.S.' from the global recession.

The spat came as diplomats rush to produce the terms of an agreement prior to the arrival next week of dozens of heads of state, including President Barack Obama.

"It's time to begin to focus on the big picture," de Boer said. "The serious discussion on finance and targets has begun."

Stern said progress had been made on several issues, and said the possibility for a sweeping deal in Copenhagen "hangs in the balance."

"I absolutely think there's a deal to be done here," Stern said. "There's not a deal in the bag."

The Obama administration has proposed cutting U.S. carbon emissions by about 17 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Stern has pressed China to agree to ambitious targets of its own, arguing that China could be responsible for roughly half of future growth in such greenhouse gases.

He Yafei's comments indicated there is still considerable distance between the U.S. and China in negotiations in Copenhagen on several issues including:

- Emissions targets. He Yafei said Beijing was committed to reducing its emissions growth, but would not agree to any deal that unduly compromised its economy. He said millions of people still live without water and electricity in China, despite its recent boom.

"Poverty reduction, to provide a better life for the Chinese people, is and will be the priority for the Chinese government," the Chinese diplomat said.

- Mitigation funds. Rich countries have historically polluted more, while poor countries are "the victims of climate change" and therefore deserve funds, He Yafei said.

European Union leaders announced Friday they would commit $3.6 billion a year to help poorer countries cope with climate change, the Associated Press reported. The decision came despite the objections of relatively poor EU countries including Poland, which argued that they're not much better off than some of the Asian countries who would receive their money.

Despite repeated questions from journalists, He Yafei declined to specify whether China is asking for funds from rich countries including the United States. He said only that China is pushing for developing countries to receive funds, and that China considers itself a developing country.

- Verification of emissions data. He Yafei rejected Stern's demands for a transparent system that would allow other countries to independently verify that China is meeting whatever emissions goals it sets out at Copenhagen.

Scientists such as Ray Weiss, a geochemist at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, say such a system is crucial to ensure that countries don't manipulate emissions data.

The diplomat said China was capable of measuring and verifying its own information, calling it a "matter of principle."

"That doesn't mean China won't do what it promises," He Yafei said. "We're very serious about it."

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