China accepts fears over climate -- but will not cut growth

(by Jane Macartney in Beijing) – China has admitted that global warming will have a massive impact on its environment but it is ready to take only limited action to reduce its soaring carbon emissions.

Its first report on climate change says that the country has warmed up more than most in the past 50 years and that drought and flooding will cause severe damage to crop production unless something is done.

China is already poised to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide — possibly this year and no later than next year — the International Energy Agency said at the weekend.

The National Climate Assessment Report says that by 2020, the nation’s average temperature will increase from 1.1C to 2.1C. This will result in increased floods in the east and more droughts in the north and the west. The higher than average temperatures will also mean spreading deserts, shrinking glaciers and more outbreaks of disease.

By the end of the century glaciers on the Tibet plateau that feed the Yangtze river — an important source of water and power for the Shanghai basin and its hinterland — could shrink by two-thirds. Higher rainfall downstream would also trigger landslides and other geological disasters around the massive Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze.

The report says that water scarcity and extreme weather could reduce nationwide crop production by as much as 10 per cent by 2030. In the second half of the century wheat, rice and corn production could drop by up to 37 per cent. “If we do not take any actions climate change will damage China’s longterm grain security,” it says.

However, it rules out absolute and compulsory caps before 2050 on China’s rising greenhouse gas emissions in favour of much less ambitious goals. Instead it suggests cutting the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide created per unit of national wealth. That, if adopted, would be China’s first — albeit unambitious — climate change goal.

The main proposal is to cut emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 40 per cent from 2000 to 2020. That is a measure called carbon intensity. However, China’s aim over the same two decades is to quadruple its GDP — so that reaching its carbon intensity goal would imply more than a doubling of emissions.

The European Union says that the plan is incompatible with avoiding more dangerous climate change. It believes that to minimise warming greenhouse gas emissions will have to fall in rich nations and no more than double in developing countries.

China, however, believes that international emission limits are unfair and could cause economic problems. It claims that it lacks the technology to meet such ambitious goals. Its leaders are also concerned that closing older factories or power plants could destroy jobs in poorer areas, where the government worries about unrest among the unemployed.

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