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The real fight in the Copenhagen climate negotiations is between China and the USA, the top two mega-emitters both with no legal requirement to reduce their emissions. Each wants the other to sign up to targets. In the US’s case this is so they can reassure their constituency back home they can move forward on climate change without fear of impacting their economic competitiveness. For China it is about the West making good on its moral responsibility to lead given the historic contribution the West has made to emissions. But also potentially to ensure there is a growing market for the low carbon technologies they are quickly becoming dominant in.

It was China who landed the first blow with chief negotiator Su Wei saying in a Chinese press conference – itself an unusual event – that the US’s target didn’t really amount to much and implying they wanted to see them commit to a 25% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 – more than double the 17% off 2005 levels they have offered to date.

In a slightly more covert attack the choreographed leak of the ‘Danish text’ lead to outraged reaction from African nations. China played no visible part in the furore but most suspect African nations are acting as their allies.

Arriving in Copenhagen yesterday Todd Stern was quick to rally: China is a rich country with a booming economy – without their involvement any deal will be meaningless and so they must add their national commitments to the international framework.

So far so predictable. But then what’s this? Tiny island nation Tuvalu has entered the ring with a new proposal to discuss a framework that includes all countries, the US and China included. A move certain to upset the major developing countries, who did indeed object, causing a suspension of the negotiations as Tuvalu stuck to its guns.

So ends round one. At this stage it’s hard to say who’d ahead on points but the G77 and China coalition does appear to be showing signs of stress. Clearly a lot has changed in the world since 1997 when Kyoto was signed, China’s boom since then has been remarkable while Western economies have shown signs of stagnation. The UN system has to show itself capable of adapting to changes in the real world or it could be rendered irrelevant something the least developed countries really can’t allow to happen.