China Environmental News Digest

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Beijing points finger at developed nations over climate

International Herald Tribune



Tuesday, February 6, 2007

China said Tuesday that wealthier, developed countries must take the lead in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and declined to say whether it would agree to any mandatory emissions limits that might hamper its booming economy.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said Beijing was willing to contribute to an international effort to combat global warming but placed the primary responsibility on richer nations that have been polluting for much longer.

"It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long- term historic emissions of developed countries and their high per-capita emissions," she said, adding that developed countries have responsibilities for global warming "that cannot be shirked."

Jiang's comments, combined with another briefing Tuesday by China's leading climate expert, were Beijing's first official response to the report issued last week by a United Nations panel of scientists that declared global warming was "unequivocal" and warned that immediate action must be taken.

China is the second-largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, trailing only the United States. Experts have predicted that the country will eventually rise to the top spot. Its rapidly expanding economy gets nearly 70 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants, many of them equipped with substandard pollution controls.

But Beijing has long noted that per capita emissions rates remain well below the averages in wealthier countries, including the United States. And officials also argue that China remains a developing country without the financial resources or technological prowess to make a rapid shift to cleaner, more expensive energy technology.

Beijing has not disputed the scientific rationale behind global warming or denied the harm it could cause. The government issued a report last month warning that climate change posed a serious threat to China's agricultural output and economy.

"The Chinese government is taking climate change extremely seriously," Qin Dahe, chief of the China Meteorological Administration, said at a news conference Tuesday. "President Hu Jintao has said that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a development issue, ultimately a development issue."

But even if Chinese leaders acknowledge the problem, they are resistant to any sweeping measures that could threaten the country's economic development.

Narrower measures are already meeting with uneven results. Qin, who served as a co-chairman of the UN panel that issued the global warming report Friday, noted that China has set a five- year goal of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent. But last year, the country failed to meet the first target in that schedule.

China's standing as both a huge developing country and as one of the world's fastest-growing economies has given it a unique status in the global warming debate. Along with India, China is exempt from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement that calls on industrial nations to reduce emissions by 2012. (The United States did not sign the agreement.) Asked if Beijing would agree to mandatory, specific targets in reducing emissions, Qin did not answer directly.

"As a developing country that's growing rapidly and has a big population, to thoroughly transform the energy structure and use clean energy would need a lot of money," Qin said, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, China has been experiencing record warm temperatures this winter that scientists attribute at least partly to global warming. Ice skating has been banned on Beijing's melting lakes.

Elsewhere, much of northern China has been gripped by a brutal drought. State media reported that roughly 300,000 people in Shaanxi Province were facing shortages of drinking water. The province has received only 10 percent of its average rainfall, according to Xinhua, the state-run press agency.



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