China balks at emissions caps
China's first plan to confront climate change cites growth as its top priority.
China echoed the Bush administration's stance on global warming Monday, refusing to set firm caps on its greenhouse-gas emissions and saying that economic growth remained its "first and overriding priority."Skip to next paragraph
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Releasing the country's first plan to deal with climate change, the government rejected international demands that it should fix ceilings on Chinese emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
Instead, the plan acknowledges the threat global warming poses to China's economic growth and outlines energy conservation measures, new technologies, and alternative energy sources to cut the country's net CO2 output.
China's reluctance to set firm limits on emissions will further complicate the efforts that European nations have launched to set new and binding greenhouse-gas limits when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2013.
"The plan sets a basic framework on which China can build but falls short of setting acceptable targets" said one European diplomat. "Hopefully we can get them to that point."
China – the second largest source of greenhouse gases after the United States – would "shoulder its share of responsibility for global climate change," said Ma Kai, China's minister of economic planning. But "China does not commit to any quantified emissions-reduction commitments," he added.
Released two days before President Hu Jintao attends a meeting of the G-8 in Germany that is expected to focus on climate change, the Chinese plan sets out a series of measures designed to check the country's greenhouse-gas emissions.
Though clearly timed to give Mr. Hu ammunition with which to fend off critics, the report's real significance, say experts here, is the fact it was released under the auspices of China's top governing body, the State Council, or cabinet.
"The State Council is paying attention, and that is much, much more important than the substance itself," said Pan Jiahua, a member of the panel that drafted the plan. "This is very much a sign that climate change is really going to be on the agenda."
"The biggest problem," cautions Yang Ailun, an energy analyst with the environmental watchdog Greenpeace, "is going to be implementation. It is difficult to translate national ambitions to local implementation when local officials are obsessed with economic development at any price."
'Unshirkable primary responsibility'
Mr. Ma, head of China's National Development and Reform Commission, insisted that developed nations bear "the unshirkable primary responsibility for climate change," since they have historically pumped almost all the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere. "They must undertake the principle efforts to combat" global warming, he argued.
Developing countries such as China, he said, need "space for development. It is neither fair nor acceptable to us to impose too early, too abruptly, and too bluntly measures that one would ask of developed countries."