BEIJING (Reuters) - China should bind itself to international goals to slash greenhouse gas pollution, one of the nation’s most prominent policy advisers said, in a striking break with Beijing’s official stance.
Hu Angang, a public policy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, warned failure to act could doom global climate change talks.
In submissions to leaders and a recent essay, Hu has argued China could emerge an economic and diplomatic winner if it vows to cut gases from industry, farms and transport that are trapping increasingly dangerous levels of solar heat in the atmosphere.
“It’s in China’s own interest to accept greenhouse gas emissions goals, not just in the international interest,” Hu told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.
“China is a developing country, but it’s a very special one, with the biggest population, high energy use and sooner or later, if not now, the biggest total greenhouse gas emissions. So this is a common battlefront we must join.”
Hu’s arguments are likely to stoke debate about China’s stance in accelerating negotiations to forge a global climate pact to build on the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
China has insisted that, as a developing country with relatively low average greenhouse gas output per person, it must grow first and not accept any caps until wealthier. Rich nations that caused most emissions must lead and help more, it says.
But many experts and Western politicians say Beijing must accept measurable limits so other big polluters will also commit.
Hu acknowledged that backing caps was a minority view in China. But the professor, who has helped shape environmental and social policy, said his stance would gain support as the damage from global warming and benefits of binding cuts become clearer.
“I’ve always started out in the minority but ended up as the mainstream,” he said.
In the scheme recently proposed by Hu in the Chinese-language Journal of Contemporary Asia-Pacific Studies, China’s greenhouse gas pollution would continue rising until around 2020.
The country would then “dramatically” curtail emissions, cutting them by 2030 to the level they were in 1990 and then half that by 2050. China’s greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 3.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 1994.
Hu’s plan is ambitious for this fast-growing nation of 1.3 billion people. China’s emissions of carbon dioxide have raced past the United States’, reaching 6.2 billion tonnes in 2006, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has estimated.
But China should commit to cuts in a global pact, even if the United States resists, Hu said. Washington refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, under which China and other poorer nations need not accept emissions limits.
“Like joining the WTO, this should be used as international pressure to spur our own transformation,” he added, referring to the World Trade Organisation, which China joined in 2001.
“If China makes a 1 percent error in handling climate change, that could mean 100 percent failure in making agreement.”
Bold reductions will need infusions of pollution-reducing technology from advanced economies. But by accepting them, China would win diplomatically and economically by rising as “green” power and a massive market for energy innovation, Hu said.
An economist often quoted in official media, Hu said he submitted his climate proposals to President Hu Jintao, no relative, earlier this year.
China and other poor countries with many farmers would suffer most from rising sea levels, worsening droughts and erratic rainfall triggered by global warming, said Hu Angang.
“Unless we become one of the biggest green contributors, we will be one of the biggest victims of global warming,” he said.
Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson