NY ALESUND, Norway (Reuters) - China will have trouble cutting its dependence on coal despite growing pressures to fight global warming, a leading Chinese official told an international panel of experts on Wednesday on an Arctic island.
Amid growing concern over the climate change impact, China will overtake the United States by 2008 as the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases because of booming economic growth and a heavy reliance on high-polluting coal-fired power plants.
“China is one of the few countries whose energy mix is dominated by coal,” Yue Ruisheng, a deputy director general at China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, told a conference held within sight of a melting Arctic glacier.
Coal makes up almost 70 percent of primary energy use in China against a world average of below 30 percent, he told 40 experts from 13 nations at the seminar on a Norwegian island. Coal-fired plants are opening at a rate of about one a week.
“China faces much more difficulties than other countries” in breaking dependence on coal, he told the meeting in Ny Alesund, a former coal mining village that now calls itself the world’s most northerly permanent settlement with 30 to 130 scientists.
He added that Beijing was taking steps to curb global warming on many fronts, ranging from greater energy efficiency, tougher emissions standards for cars and even the controversial one child per family policy.
“Through family planning over 300 million births have been averted nationally,” he said. China’s population is 1.3 billion against around 1.6 billion without the measure. The U.S. population is about 300 million.
The United States also told the meeting, held in a building from whose window can be seen a gradually receding glacier, that it was working hard to offset climate change.
President George W. Bush has called the major emitters to talks in Washington on September 27-28 to discuss new measures.
“We will be focusing in particular on power generation and coal, financing energy efficiency,” said Trigg Talley, a senior U.S. State Department official. The meeting will also try to promote deployment of new clean technologies.
“The United States intends that this will contribute to a global agreement ... by 2009,” he said.
Some U.S. allies are skeptical, partly because Bush did not join the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, the main plan for curbing greenhouse gases, and has until now favored voluntary rather than binding targets.
Still, the United Nations’ top climate official said he was encouraged that momentum was building to fight warming that U.N. studies project will cause rising seas, droughts, floods, and more hunger and disease.
“Political willingness to act seems to be building up,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the Bonn-based Climate Change Secretariat, in a statement to the meeting.
Environment Ministers will meet in Bali, Indonesia, in December to try to launch new talks to extend Kyoto beyond 2012. Kyoto groups 35 industrialized nations but developing nations led by China and India have no targets.