WASHINGTON Countries that buy Chinese goods should be held responsible for the carbon dioxide emitted by the factories that make them in any global plan to reduce greenhouse gases, a Chinese official said on Monday.
"About 15 percent to 25 percent of China's emissions come from the products which we make for the world, which should not be taken by us," said Gao Li, director of China's Department of Climate Change.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Gao added that "this share of emission should be taken by the consumers, not the producers" and called the demand a "very important item to make (for a) fair agreement."
Gao gave no further details of his proposal, which could nevertheless be controversial as countries like the United States already fear that controlling domestic emissions will lead to sharply higher energy prices and possible job losses.
China, like the United States, did not join the 17-year-old Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants linked to climate change problems.
With an economy that has been booming on its export of manufactured goods, China's greenhouse gas emissions also have been growing and are now thought to be around par with those in the United States, which has been the leading emitting nation.
China is the top source of imports into the United States, followed by Canada and Mexico.
Backers of a new international deal to control climate-warming emissions hope a pact is embraced in Copenhagen in December, although they acknowledge that timetable might be ambitious.
In the meantime, international interest in curbing climate change is growing, led by President Barack Obama's pledge to put the United States on a path to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with an additional 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Legislation to create a cap-and-trade system to limit businesses' emissions could begin moving through the U.S. Congress in coming months. But enactment of such a bill might not be possible before the Copenhagen meeting. If not, environmentalists worry it could discourage other countries from signing onto a deal there.
But even without a comprehensive agreement, Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said negotiators could try to achieve a "strong interim agreement" that would set forth a framework, possibly including a range of targets for countries to reduce emissions.
Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general for global issues at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Pew forum that his government views 2009 as a "make or break" year in achieving progress on a new global deal.
But noting that the Kyoto Protocol has only covered about 30 percent of global emissions because key economies did not sign on, Sugiyama warned: "My government is very much determined not to repeat what Kyodo does give us...in the sense that we were not able to involve United States of America...and other countries like China."
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)