BEIJING Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said rich nations must abandon their "unsustainable lifestyle" to fight climate change and expand help to poor nations bearing the brunt of worsening droughts and rising sea levels.
Wen told the opening of a conference Friday the financial crisis was no reason for rich nations to delay fighting global warming.
"As the global financial crisis spreads and worsens, and the world economy slows down apparently, the international community must not waver in its determination to tackle climate change," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
The two-day meeting is to push China's call for rich nations to fund a huge infusion of greenhouse gas-cutting technology for developing countries. But foreign officials at the meeting raised doubts about Beijing's proposal, which could stoke contention over who pays and how much.
China is widely believed to be the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from industry, power plants and vehicles lifting global temperatures. But Wen threw the onus back on rich nations, with their much higher emissions per person and long history of polluting the air.
"Developed countries shoulder the duty and responsibility to tackle climate change and should alter their unsustainable lifestyle," he told the meeting.
Chinese officials have said wealthy nations should divert as much as 1 percent of their economic worth to paying for clean technology transfers and helping the Third World overcome damage from the rising temperatures bringing more heatwaves and droughts, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.
This would mean a total $284 billion a year if members of the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) paid up based on the size of their economies in 2007.
Over 190 nations have agreed to seek a new treaty to curtail greenhouse gases from industry, vehicles and land-clearing. China wants technology aid to feature in that pact, which negotiators hope to seal in Copenhagen late next year.
HOW TO PAY FOR IT?
Climate officials gathered in Beijing welcomed China's growing activism on the issue but questioned its proposal, especially with an economic downturn draining coffers.
"It is undeniable that the financial crisis will have an impact on the climate change negotiations," said Yvo de Boer, who heads the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.
"If we go to citizens under the current circumstances ... and say 'I'm increasing your tax burden in order to pay for climate policy', that might not go down very well," he told Reuters.
Denmark's Climate Change Minister, Connie Hedegaard, who is helping guide negotiations leading to Copenhagen, said other governments wanted to see what China offers in future emissions goals in return for help and big emissions cuts by rich nations.
Few rich nations have lived up to vows to give a sliver of their GDPs to development aid, giving little hope for any similar approach to climate change, she said in an interview.
"I think we will not be able to do this at an adequately big scale unless we also activate market forces," she said of technology transfers.
But Beijing will wait to see what U.S. President-elect Barack Obama offers in greenhouse gas goals and aid before showing more of its own bargaining cards, said Hedegaard.
"I definitely believe that behind the scenes things are being prepared and analysed," she said of China. "But I take it that China, as we all do, will await the new signals coming out of Washington."
(Editing by Nick Macfie and Bill Tarrant)