China moves to shrink its carbon footprint
Within a year, China is expected to outpace the US in carbon dioxide emissions.
With China's carbon footprint expected to outsize America's within a year, officials in Beijing appear to be backing away from their view that global warming is a Western problem that developed countries must solve.Skip to next paragraph
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While still insisting on their right to industrialize hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty, Chinese leaders are showing the first tentative signs of readiness to accept mandatory emissions-reductions targets. And they are setting themselves all kinds of green goals.
As the world's No. 2 greenhouse-gas culprit – closing in on the 6 billion tons of CO2 produced by the US annually – China is under pressure both from other nations and from its own scientists' predictions of a potentially catastrophic future if global warming is not curbed.
"Climate change has become a huge challenge to China's social and economic sustained development," Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, said Monday. "China is determined to mitigate and respond to climate change as a responsible nation."
The signals of how it will do so are mixed. On the one hand, Premier Wen Jiabao announced earlier this month, on a visit to Japan, that his country would "proactively participate in building an effective framework from 2013" to replace the Kyoto Protocol's binding targets for greenhouse-gas reductions.
That regime, which will emerge from several years of global negotiations, seems certain to impose binding targets on every nation: At the moment, China is not obliged to meet any Kyoto standards because it is a developing country.
At the same time, China's first Climate Change Assessment Report, dated September 2006 but broadly distributed last weekend, rejects obligatory ceilings.
"If we prematurely assume responsibilities for mandatory greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, the direct consequence will be to constrain China's current energy and manufacturing industries and weaken the competitiveness of Chinese products," the report warns, adding that, "For a considerable time to come, developing the economy and improving people's lives remains the country's primary task."
Four months ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris predicted that China would not be emitting more heat-trapping CO2 than the US until 2010. But with Chinese growth steaming ahead at an annual 11.1 percent so far this year, and with energy-intensive industries such as aluminum expanding by 43 percent, the energy watchdog has brought its estimate forward by two years.
Grim outlook if China doesn't act
If nothing were done, within 25 years China's emissions would be double the combined output of all industrialized nations, said Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist. That is largely because China is fueling its growth with coal, a noxious source of CO2 and other pollutants. As the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world, China uses the fossil fuel to generate 69 percent of its primary energy, according to official figures.
The effects are visible and getting worse, Chinese scientists are warning.