"Neither of us profits from a growing dependence on foreign oil, nor can we spare our people from the ravages of climate change unless we cooperate"

Barack Obama,
US president

Opening the dialogue on Monday Barack Obama, the US president, said China and the US could map out "a low carbon recovery" from the global financial crisis.

"Let's be frank: neither of us profits from a growing dependence on foreign oil, nor can we spare our people from the ravages of climate change unless we cooperate," he said.

"Common sense calls upon us to act."

Speaking to reporters Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, said Obama had made it clear to China that global warming was a top priority.

"I don't think it's easy but I think that we will get there," he said during a conference call after the first of two days of talks in the US capital.

He said there was a lot of interest on the Chinese side to reach "a constructive and successful outcome" to the Copenhagen conference.

China sees global warming as important "as a substantive matter, but also of real importance in the US-China bilateral relationship and increasingly something that's going to be important on its own for the way they are perceived by the rest of the world", Stern said.

Emissions plan

Last month the US House of Representatives led by Obama's Democratic Party narrowly passed a plan to restrict emissions, marking a sharp turn from the previous administration.

Progress from the US and China, the world's two largest emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, would boost the Copenhagen talks.

Despite views that Washington will only commit to specific reductions in industrial emissions until Beijing does, China has arguably already taken more concrete steps than the US.

China has moved to cut carbon emission levels to combat global warming [EPA]
China has raised its fuel economy standards for its rapidly growing passenger vehicle fleet, making them more stringent than those in Australia, Canada and the US.

Its latest five-year plan also calls for a 20 per cent cut in energy intensity by the end of 2010, from 2005 levels. Official estimates show that it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about one billion tonnes.

The US has no national carbon-reduction goals but the House of Representatives has called for industrial greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 17 per cent by 2020, from 2005 levels, and by 83 per cent by 2050.

It has also allocated $30bn for investments in renewable energy technology and improved energy transmission as part of an economic stimulus measure passed in February.

But China, India and other developing nations have resisted pressure to commit to binding targets on cutting carbon emissions blamed for global warming, saying that rich countries bear historic responsibility.

Environmentalists are also disappointed over China's refusal to commit to a goal of cutting world carbon emissions in half by 2050, and worry about its plans to significantly expand the number of coal-fired power plants that contribute to global warming.