China set to confront climate change, defend growth

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s first plan for climate change will seek to fortify the country against damage from global warming but also against international pressure to cut greenhouse gas pollution that Beijing calls the cost of growth.

Smoke billows from a cement plant in Baokang, central China's Hubei province June 2, 2007. China's first plan for climate change will seek to fortify the country against damage from global warming but also against international pressure to cut greenhouse gas pollution that Beijing calls the cost of growth. REUTERS/Stringer

China will unveil its national plan on Monday, two days before President Hu Jintao attends a meeting of Group of Eight leaders in Germany at which global warming will feature.

Beijing has already signaled that the plan is meant as a defensive policy wall to limit damage from rising seas, worsening droughts and melting glaciers, but also to protect ambitious growth goals from possible greenhouse gas quotas that it fears would cripple development.

“Global climate warming is already an undeniable fact having serious consequences for natural ecosystems and for humankind,” a cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao agreed on Friday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

But China would “insist on responding to climate change within a framework of sustainable development”, the cabinet said at the meeting which approved the plan.

“If developing countries’ greenhouse gas emissions are restricted, their scope for development and their residents’ living standards will inevitably be severely impaired,” Pan Jiahua, a senior Chinese climate policy researcher who helped draft the plan said in an official newspaper on Thursday.

The dilemma facing politicians is that China is both a massive and growing greenhouse gas polluter and a populous, largely poor country seeking to rise to the ranks of wealthy world powers.


This year or next China is likely to overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main industrial greenhouse gas trapping solar heat in the atmosphere with potentially calamitous results.

But spread over a population of over 1.3 billion, including hundreds of millions of poor farmers, China’s per capita emissions are a fraction of rich countries’.

China’s emissions per head are one-fifth of the United States’, officials said on Thursday.

They gave no further details, but per capita emissions in 2000 were under one sixth of U.S. levels. The government is currently doing an inventory of emissions, and officials usually say they have yet to make an accurate picture of current levels.

“We need to find ways to contain emissions. The contradiction facing China is that we also have the goals of developing the economy and creating jobs,” Zou Ji, a Beijing climate policy expert who helped draft the plan, told Reuters earlier.

Contention is set to intensify as negotiations open on extending a U.N. treaty on global warming and emissions beyond 2012, when the first phase of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol ends.

China and other developing countries signed that treaty, but under current rules they do not have to set goals for emissions. The United States pulled out in 2001, saying Kyoto should not have excluded developing nations from the first phase of emissions targets.

But Chinese officials have pointed instead to efforts to cut the energy used to generate each unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2010.

U.S. President George Bush has called on China and India to join in fresh talks on curbing greenhouse gases.

China says wealthy economies must lead the way by cutting their own emissions and sharing more energy-saving technology.

“Developed countries are using every opportunity to push for negotiations on emissions reductions and caps for developing countries,” climate policy official Lu Xuedu wrote recently in a Chinese magazine, Business Watch.

“This has forced developing countries to have no choice but be exceedingly cautious in climate change treaty negotiations and to defend themselves to the hilt.”