Cooling towers of a coal-fired power plant in Dadong, China. The country is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, exceeding the levels of the US and EU combined in 2012. President Barack Obama hopes to cut US power plant emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Photo: AP

Beijing - President Barack Obama’s proposal to curb US greenhouse gas emissions may improve the chances of completing a global climate treaty but is unlikely to defuse demands by China, India and others for Americans to do more.

Governments have set a goal of signing an agreement next year in Paris to curb emissions of climate-changing gases. Unlike the previous 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which exempted developing nations from emission limits, this deal is supposed to cover every country. Progress has been stymied by conflict over how much of the burden poor countries should bear.

China, the biggest emitter, has promised to curb its output but with its economy slowing, and communist leaders under pressure to generate jobs, it has resisted binding limits.

Obama’s proposal on Monday to reduce emissions from US power plants, many of which are coal-fired, would give American negotiators a fresh gesture to respond to demands for US action, even though some environmentalists say the measure is too lax.

The proposed cuts were “not nearly enough”, Clare Perry, a campaigner for the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, said. But they “should help bring China to the table”.

As the biggest emitter, China has to be on board for any global climate agreement to work, environmentalists say. Other big emitters in the developing world, such as India, Brazil and South Africa, are also crucial.

China’s status has changed drastically since the 1997 deal. It has grown into the second-largest economy, prompting US legislators who see it as a rival to say any new treaty must cover China. Beijing says it is still too poor, with an average income barely one-tenth the US level, to take on the limits imposed on rich countries.

“Obama’s plan to cut greenhouse gases may have some impact on China’s decision-making,” said Wang Ke, a professor at the School of Environment and Natural Resources at People’s University in Beijing. “But China’s goal will be based on its domestic needs in the transformation of its economy and handling smog.”

China’s Environment Ministry did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

China accounted for 29 percent of global emissions in 2012, more than the US and the 27-nation EU combined, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

While US emissions decreased by 4 percent and EU emissions fell 1.6 percent that year, China’s rose by 3 percent.

Obama proposed reducing carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Scientists say far larger cuts are needed to avoid drastic environmental change. – Sapa-AP