China says climate policy must make room for growth

BEIJING (Reuters) - China went on the global warming offensive on Monday, unveiling a climate change action plan while stressing it will not sacrifice economic ambitions to international demands to cut greenhouse gas pollution.

The official launching the plan said emissions caps that dented growth in poor nations would do more damage than climate change itself -- despite the storms, droughts and rising sea levels that global warming threatens to generate.

“The ramifications of limiting the development of developing countries would be even more serious than those from climate change,” said Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, which steers climate change policy.

“China will not commit to any quantified emissions reduction targets, but that does not mean we will not assume responsibilities in responding to climate change,” he told reporters.

China’s first national plan on climate change vows to combat global warming through energy saving, agricultural adaptation and forest planting.

But the document will also serve as a shield for tough international talks ahead. Beijing faces rising calls to sign up to quotas for taming greenhouse gas emissions trapping more heat in the atmosphere.

The plan appeared two days before President Hu Jintao attends a meeting of Group of Eight leaders in Germany which will focus on global warming.

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“This is more of a mobilization rally to draw the battle line as the G8 approaches. Beijing wants to make sure that China is not the target of world opinion on global warming issues,” said Wenran Jiang, an energy expert at the University of Alberta.

The plan says wealthy powers produced most of the gases currently heating the globe and still have far higher per capita emissions than China, so they should fund clean development rather than forcing poor countries to accept emission limits.

Rich countries had shifted manufacturing to poor nations like China and then blamed them for rising pollution, while dragging their feet over promises to share clean technology, he said.

“We feel that there’s been lots of thunder but little rain, lots of talk but little action,” he told the news conference when asked if China was satisfied with technology transfers.

Ma said that in 2004 his nation’s average per capita emissions were about one fifth of U.S. levels for the same year.

Residents cover their faces as a truck loaded with coal passes by at a village near a coal mine, on the outskirts of Xiaoyi, north China's Shanxi province, June 4, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer


Contention over greenhouse gases is set to intensify as negotiations open on extending a U.N. treaty on global warming beyond 2012, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol’s first phase ends.

China on Monday welcomed U.S. President George Bush’s recent proposals on global warming as a “positive change”, but joined several European leaders in calling for a single global approach.

Bush aims to convene 15 top polluting nations, including China, to develop long-term goals to combat global warming.

Some critics fear Bush’s proposal for separate talks could rival U.N. efforts. Ma said they should be a “helpful complement, not a substitute”.

But he disputed an EU target of limiting temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius, calling for further studies on the social and economic impacts of the target.

“I think that as yet there is no scientific basis for that,” Ma said.

The national plan spells out the threats China sees from global warming in coming decades -- intensified droughts and floods, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and declines in grain yields unless counter steps are taken.

It promises to support clean transport, wind and solar power, recycling in industry, “stress-resistant” crops, and shore walls to withstand rising seas.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will head a “national leading group” to orchestrate climate change policy, the plan said.

The creation of the group “indicates increased seriousness about the climate change issue”, said Gorild Heggelund, who analyses Chinese global warming policy at the Fridjof Nansen Institute in Norway.

Beijing now had in place broad goals to navigate climate politics in years ahead, said Zou Ji of the People’s University of China, who advised the government on the plan. He said resistance to emissions quotas would not shift.

“But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for cooperation or negotiation,” he added. “It does mean that cooperation has to be on the basis that economic development has to continue.”