Jun 7th 2007
China and Australia unveil new policies on global warming
GOVERNMENTS that do not want to do anything about global warming often point to China, which will soon become the biggest source of the greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet. What point is there cutting back on our own emissions, the foot-draggers ask, if our efforts are obscured by a vast and growing cloud of pollution from China? In an attempt to counter this argument, China unveiled a new policy on global warming this week. The day before, Australia, a charter member of the “not-without-China” camp, had reversed its position and resolved to cap its own emissions irrespective of China's actions. But America, which has also just declared itself willing to limit its emissions, is calling for negotiations on a scheme to tackle global warming involving all big polluters, including China.
All these announcements came just before the annual summit of the Group of Eight, a club for rich countries, which this year is focusing on climate change. Some G8 members, such as Germany and Britain, are keen to adopt tough measures to fight climate change. But America prefers a more leisurely approach. Meanwhile, the biggest poor countries, including India and China, are also attending—setting the stage for a heated debate.
China argues that rich countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and so should shoulder most of the burden of reducing them. It also points out that although its overall emissions are huge and growing fast (they will surpass America's this year, according to the International Energy Agency), they are still far lower than America's when measured per person (see chart). It would be unfair, it argues, to deprive China's citizens of the chance to live as lavishly as Americans do, despite all the pollution that might entail.
Moreover, China is already trying to curb its emissions. In fact, many measures announced this week are old policies repackaged. Ma Kai, the minister whose brief includes global warming, highlighted China's commitment to generate 10% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Much of that will come from hydroelectric power. But China is also the world's fifth-biggest user of wind turbines, and the biggest consumer of the sort of solar panels used to heat water.
Greater use of nuclear power should also help reduce China's emissions. The government is building four new nuclear reactors, and earlier this year placed an order for another four—a far more ambitious construction programme than any other country save Russia.China also has tougher standards for fuel efficiency than America, for one. Its cars use 6.9 litres to travel 100km (34 miles to the gallon) compared with 9.8 litres in America. By next year the Chinese standard will rise to 6.5 litres—a level America will take a decade to reach under the most ambitious plans.
Mr Ma also pointed to China's success in curbing the growth in its population, without which he claims the country would now be belching out 330m more tonnes of carbon dioxide each year—an extra 5% or so. Reforestation, he said, had absorbed another 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the past 25 years, or just less than China's current annual emissions. Such measures would continue to yield savings in the future, he maintained.
The China syndrome
All this is supposed to help China reduce energy intensity (the ratio of energy-consumption to economic output) by 20% between 2005 and 2010. Energy intensity fell by only 1.2% last year, less than the 4% required to meet the 2010 goal. But it did fall by over 4% a year between 1990 and 2005. Thanks to China's galloping economic growth, however, its emissions will continue to increase even if it meets its energy-intensity target.
Until recently, Australia's government had cited China's policies as one reason to allow its own emissions to grow unfettered. But the opposition disagreed, as did voters, according to most opinion polls. With elections approaching, John Howard, the prime minister, has changed course abruptly and announced that Australia will adopt a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases by 2012. But the level of the cap, he said, would not be set until after the elections—and the competitive threat to Australian firms from less carbon-constrained places such as China will be one factor considered when setting it.Technorati Tags: china, australia, global warming