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Climate deal surprises after secret negotiations.

Byline: Julie Pace and Nedra Pickler

BEIJING -- The climate change agreement between the United States and China caught the world by surprise after months of secret negotiations, built on an opening that arose last year when President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in the California desert.

The deal, announced Wednesday, could mark a turning point in international negotiations because for the first time it brings together the two largest emitters of heat-trapping gases. Whether it will actually help clean up the atmosphere and slow the increase in world temperatures remains to be seen. But the agreement clearly signals that Obama intends to charge ahead on the issue in his final two years in office, even though many of Congress' staunchest supporters of action lost in last week's elections.

The U.S.-China deal has its roots in a June 2013 summit at the Sunnylands estate, where Obama and Xi reached an agreement on pursuing the reduction of hydrofluorocarbons that are used in refrigerators and insulating foams. To the White House, the deal suggested a broader openness from China to tackling climate change, senior Obama administration officials told reporters traveling with the president to Asia.

The officials said Secretary of State John Kerry returned from a trip to China in April with the idea of pursuing a joint climate change plan with Beijing. A senior administration official said Kerry worked with his Chinese counterpart, State Councilor Yang Jiechi that launched the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group. Later, Kerry invited Yang to visit him in Boston, where the former Massachusetts senator used the vista of the Boston Harbor to show how government action can make positive change, the administration official said.

The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly by name.

The following month, Obama sent Xi a lengthy letter outlining areas where he thought their two countries could find common ground, including climate change, possible military cooperation and trade partnerships. When Obama and Xi met in the Hague on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in late March, the U.S. president raised his climate proposal again.

But the Chinese leader was noncommittal, the officials said. It wasn't until September when the U.S. began to feel it was making progress with the Chinese. White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice traveled to China and received a signal from her counterparts that they wanted to proceed on a climate accord. In an effort to generate momentum, Obama met later that month with Chinese Vice Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli on the sidelines of the annual U.N. gathering in New York to press the climate deal.

The officials said Zhang came to the meeting with a message from Xi: Let's get this done. That go-ahead cleared the way for an intensive process that concluded in the days leading up to Obama's visit to Beijing.

The deal was largely finalized ahead of the U.S. president's arrival this week but was kept quiet until Obama and Xi could discuss it over a lengthy dinner in the Chinese capital Tuesday night, officials said.

The agreement isn't binding, but it is seen as a signal to the world that the U.S. and China are united on a need to reduce carbon emissions.

That could be significant heading into high-stakes international climate negotiations in Paris next year.
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Author:Pace, Julie; Pickler, Nedra
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Nov 13, 2014
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