ABC's Bill Blakemore reports from New York:
China's President may well surprise many Americans at the opening of the UN's all day Climate Summit Tuesday morning by announcing voluntary and sweeping policy measures to fight global warming.
Over coffee and mini-Danish Monday morning in midtown Manhattan, chief UN climate negotiator Yvo De Boer told a small group of journalists that the expected announcement "could well make China a world leader on climate change."
"It's ironical," said De Boer, that the US President, whose election campaign included such strong promises to lead the world in the fight to contain global warming, should now have a domestic agenda preoccupied with health care debates, even as this Climate Summit convenes.
Tuesday's General Assembly event is the highest level climate summit ever convened (it’s at the heads of state level) and expected by many negotiators to set the tone for what's now referred to simply as "Copenhagen" -- the 2-week summit in the Danish capital in December seeking international agreements for dealing with global warming and its many impacts.
Obama's speech is as widely anticipated as Hu's, but for partly different reasons -- no one seems to be sure exactly how the American President will play it. There appears to be the possibility according to some diplomatic sources that, if China's unilateral measures appear impressive, and with India firmly declaring that it too is now taking serious measures toward a low-carbon future, the United States could be seen, temporarily at least, as a relative laggard.
"I think China will lay out a very significant policy package tomorrow," said De Boer.
"This suite of policies, he said, "will take China to be a world leader on addressing climate change, and it will be quite ironic to hear that tomorrow expressed in a country (the United States) that is firmly convinced that China is doing nothing to address climate change."
De Boer indicated that he expects China to present a "suite of policy measures that will be verifiable" and cut across several sectors of the Chinese economy, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation emissions, and industrial energy standards.
De Boer, who has major responsibility for bringing all parties to the table in Copenhagen, said he thinks what China announces tomorrow "will be admirable, and will be admired."
He did not speak about what effect he thought this "dramatic shift" in China's declared policy might have on the US Congress.
The US Senate is currently considering a carbon cap-and-trade bill.
But De Boer did offer the opinion that Obama does not need to come to Copenhagen in December with finalized US legislation in order to have credible world leadership.
He said that a finalized bill before Copenhagen might actually hamper America's flexibility at the December summit, but did note the current bill being considered in Congress would make a significant cut in emissions.
Rather, De Boer believes that "Obama need to say he stands by his election statement that he will take the US to a Copenhagen agreement."
Economists and sceintists around the world have long said that the major change that’s needed is for the world’s countries to agree that it will no longer be free to put CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the air.
Once it’s no longer free, they believe, it will send signals that spur a revolutionary “rewiring” of how humanity generates electricity. China and the US together account for about 40 percent of the world's annual CO2 emissions in about equal measure, though China has four times as many people, and thus one quarter the emissions per-capita.
(The third highest emitter is Indonesia, not because of burning fossil fuels but because of aggressive deforestation.)
The UN negotiation chief the world needs both China and US to be the lead players at Copenhagen, and said he believes the expected announcement from Hu Jintao "will help incredibly."