[R-G] CHINA: Racing to Be World's Leading Polluter
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Wed Apr 25 19:20:42 MDT 2007
Racing to Be World's Leading Polluter
BEIJING, Apr 25 (IPS) - China has delayed the release of a
long-expected national plan on tackling global warming amid warnings
that the country is set to overtake the United States as the world's
biggest source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) this year -- much earlier
than forecast -- because of its runaway economic growth.
It is the second time this month that Chinese officials have deferred
the release of the anticipated public information. Earlier national
statisticians delayed the publication of quarterly data about the
country's economic growth, announcing consequently that China's growth
has increased unexpectedly by 11 percent in the first three months of
The new increase comes on the heels of breakneck annual economic
expansion of more than 10 percent for four straight years, which has
seen China rapidly emerge as the fourth largest economy in the world.
The problem with China's transformation into an economic powerhouse
however, is that it is fuelled almost entirely by highly polluting
coal. Burning coal and other fossil fuels release GHGs such as carbon
dioxide, which are believed to cause global warming. Last year the
country burnt more than 1.2 billion tonnes of coal and has ambitious
plans to build a series of new coal-fired power plants to continue its
Chinese statisticians are not the only ones taken by surprise by the
country's raging economic growth. The International Energy Agency
(IEA), which advises developed countries on energy policies, has had
to revise its projections regarding China too.
Analysts had predicted earlier that China's emissions of GHGs would
surpass those of the U.S. by 2009. But, in the light of China's
astonishing economic performance of last year and the first three
months of 2007, the IEA now believes this is going to happen within
What is more, if those emissions are left unchecked, in 25 years China
would be emitting twice as much carbon dioxide as the richest
developed countries together, according to IEA's chief economist Dr.
Fatih Birol. By then China's pollution could outstrip any gains made
elsewhere in the world.
"(In 25 years) carbon dioxide emissions, which come from China alone,
will be double the carbon dioxide emissions which will come from all
the OECD countries put together -- the whole U.S., plus Canada,
Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand," Birol was quoted as
predicting this week.
The deferred national "action plan" on climate change is expected to
promise emission cuts but no carbon caps, which limit carbon dioxide
and other gases linked to global warming a country can release.
Such caps are perceived by Chinese leaders as costly measures because
they may stifle economic growth, which they regard as paramount in
maintaining social stability. So far, Beijing has refused to consider
any preventive steps that could hobble economic expansion and lead to
Instead of trying to cap GHG emissions, China's leaders are trying to
reduce energy intensity, the amount of coal and other fuels the
country burns relative to economic output. Chinese academics say this
will be the keystone of the new "action plan" on climate change.
China is a signatory to the 1998 Kyoto protocol which obliges
developed nations to limit their GHGs output, but as an emerging
nation it is exempt of mandatory limits.
However, China's continuing trajectory of economic boom means that
without its control of emissions any attempts to moderate global
warming in future will be meaningless.
"Without having China on board, no international climate change policy
has any chance of success at all," Birol said. "Without China playing
a significant role, all the efforts of every other country will make
little sense. It is terribly important."
Beijing has given contradictory signals to its willingness to be a
full participant in future global efforts to fight climate change.
During a visit to Tokyo earlier this month, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao
announced that his country was prepared to participate in talks on a
future framework to curb global warming emissions to replace Kyoto
protocol provisions that expire in 2012.
But Beijing has also signalled that rich industrialised nations should
take the lead in cutting GHGs since they bear the responsibility for
causing global warming. Chinese officials argue that per capita
emissions in China are much lower than in the West and climate change
is an accumulative result of long-term emissions of developed
According to Qin Dahe, expert on climate change who retired this month
as head of the China Meteorological Administration, Chinese per capita
emissions in 2000 were just 0.65 tonnes per person - one-fifth of
levels in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
Beijing has also expressed scepticism about the soundness of some
scientific claims on global warming. China, along with the U.S. and a
few other countries, has challenged assessments presented in a draft
report at a U.N. climate change meeting in Brussels this month. The
report was approved after some climate warnings were toned down.
In another development China has also questioned the need for climate
change to be regarded as a security threat. During a U.N. Security
Council meeting last week, China rejected calls by Britain to discuss
the potential for climate change to cause wars and conflicts at the
most powerful U.N. body.
"The developing countries believe that Security Council has neither
the professional competence in handling climate change - nor is it the
right decision-making place for extensive participation leading up to
widely acceptable proposals," Liu Zhenmin, China's deputy ambassador
The official 'China Daily' went even further in suggesting there were
ulterior motives behind the proposal to discuss climate change at the
U.N. Security Council of which China is one of the five permanent
"The call for the international community to address climate change is
sensible, but sensationalising it as an issue of security is
conspiratorial," the paper said in an editorial Tuesday.
But despite Beijing's reticent official attitude on climate change,
Chinese leaders are aware that rising temperatures present a danger to
China as they threaten its continuous economic development -- the very
thing they have been trying to protect by warding off mandatory carbon
A new report prepared by Chinese scientists and published last weekend
paints a bleak picture of China where climate change will mean larger
deserts, severe droughts and reduced water availability. Rising
sea-levels and deadly typhoons could also threaten the affluent
Chinese east coast.
Perhaps the scariest possibility of all is the impact that rising
temperatures could have on China's food security. The country would
face an uphill battle to feed its 1.3 billion people if water scarcity
and droughts reduce its crop production by up to 30 percent as
predicted in the next 20 years. (END/2007)
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