China signals long-term plans to curb greenhouse gases

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will make “controlling greenhouse gas emissions” an important part of its development plans, the government said, as pressure on the world’s top emitter grows ahead of global talks on tackling climate change.

A small house stands in front of a coal-burning power station located on the outskirts of Beijing August 5, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

The broad intentions set down in a report from a cabinet meeting on Wednesday were made public as Beijing proceeds with negotiations seeking a new global pact to fight climate change.

The meeting, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, bluntly said global warming threatened China’s environmental and economic health, newspapers reported on Thursday.

Warning of worsening droughts and floods and melting glaciers, the meeting stressed the “urgency” of tackling climate change and called for domestic objectives to control greenhouse emissions, though it made no mention of emissions cuts.

“Make objectives for controlling greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change an important basis for setting the medium and long-term development strategies and plans of government at every level,” the Xinhua news agency said in a summary of the cabinet meeting.

The report did not give any time span under consideration.

Now widely considered to be the world’s top annual emitter of greenhouse gases, Beijing has long argued that development comes first when there are still tens of millions living in poverty.

But China’s leaders are increasingly worried about the risks rising temperatures pose for a densely-populated country with limited natural resources. They also want to exploit a boom in clean technology and to be seen as a constructive player.

“The government is already pressing provincial officials to develop climate change plans, and this is a concrete signal that they are internalizing climate change into their economic development,” said Padraig Oliver, a China climate change analyst at consultants Ecofys Azure International.

The cabinet meeting also called for boosting development of low-carbon industry and the construction and transport sectors. A senior official promised this month to unveil a plan for “new energy” by the end of the year.

The latest statement adds to signs that some emissions goals may be part of the next five-year development plan from 2011.

Jiang Kejun, a climate change policy expert at Beijing’s state Energy Research Institute, told Reuters officials were considering whether to develop a specific plan to address global warming parallel to the next plan.

“This shows climate policy issues are now a central part of the national strategy,” Jiang said of the government meeting.


The meeting coincided with preparations for talks to clinch a new global pact on climate change, to be held in Copenhagen at the end of the year. China will play a central role in the talks.

Under pressure to agree some curbs on emissions, Beijing has said wealthy countries, after years of dirty growth, must make cuts in emissions and offer technology and cash to poorer states.

But the State Council Standing Committee, or cabinet, stressed that China wanted to be seen as a key figure in talks.

Beijing may seek to use domestic policies and goals to show other nations it is serious about fighting global warming even if the goals are not directly included in an international pact.

One idea calls for carbon intensity targets, setting goals for cutting levels of carbon dioxide - the main greenhouse gas from fossil fuels - emitted to create a unit of economic worth.

China’s climate change ambassador, Yu Qingtai, said recently that his country wanted to see output of carbon dioxide peak as soon as possible, a shift away from China’s right to pollute as it develops.

The cabinet warned baldly of dire consequences from warming.

“The large amount of greenhouse gases emitted through human activities is the main reason for global warming leading to extreme weather events,” the report on the meeting said. This, it said, was also “threatening the security of water supplies.”

Editing by Ken Wills and Ron Popeski