China announces first climate change plan

Beijing, China (GLOBE-Net) - The Chinese government has announced its first national action plan to respond to climate change, outlining measures to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy while maintaining a right to pursue economic development and rejecting any hard caps on greenhouse gases.

The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated from developed countries, while per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low, said Ma Kai, Ma Kai, chairman of National Development and Reform Commission. Rich nations should therefore shoulder most of the burden of reducing emissions, he said.

However, “the absence of any quantified targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions does not mean China isn’t serious about reducing GHG emissions,” said the top economic planner.

China maintains that it will not restrict economic growth to reduce emissions, and endorses the UN concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. This principle is commonly evoked by China and other developing countries to allow their pursuit of development and poverty reduction, which will increase energy consumption and likely boost greenhouse gas emissions.

China has already experienced some impacts of climate change, and scientists expect further disruption, noted Ma Kai. Current and projected impacts include increase droughts, flooding, retreat of glaciers, and desertification, all of which may adversely impact the country’s socioeconomic well being.

With recent economic growth, China’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising: from 1994 to 2004, GHG emissions have grown at an annual average of 4 percent. In 2004, per capita CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion were 3.65 tons, 87 percent of the world average and 33 percent of the level in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

China also stressed that its historical contribution to climate change has been minimal noting that cumulative emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion accounted for only 9.33 percent of the world total during the period of 1950-2002, and the cumulative CO2 emissions per capita are 61.7 tons over the same period, ranking the 92nd in the world.

However, a booming economy, heavy reliance on coal power, and a population of more than one billion means that China is poised to become the world’s largest GHG emitter sometime later this year. The country is now under significant international pressure to commit to curbing GHG growth.

But China maintains in this latest plan that it is making strides towards reducing emissions intensity, or emissions per unit of economic output, as well as promoting renewable energy and cleaner conventional power. China’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP declined by almost 50 percent between 1990 and 2004, notes the government.

According to the government statement, energy conservation was made a “matter of strategic importance in energy policy” as early as the 1980s, resulting in these energy efficiency improvements.

Policies have also been adopted to encourage low emissions energy sources. Share of coal in China’s primary energy mix decreased from 76.2 percent in 1990 to 68.9 percent in 2005, while the shares of oil, gas and hydro increased. Wind, solar and biomass energy are also on the rise, with China expected to be among the world’s leading wind power markets by 2010. Under the government’s plan, the percentage of renewables in China’s energy mix should rise from about seven percent currently to 10 percent in 2010.

Energy efficiency is a major pillar of the strategy, as the government aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent by 2010.

Other measures included increased reforestation, reform of fossil fuel pricing to include scarcity and environmental impact, and a public campaign to increase climate change awareness.

However, China maintains that developing countries still have a limited capacity to address climate change, and appealed to developed nations to fulfill commitments made at the United Nations to “provide financial assistance and transfer technology to developing countries so as to enhance their capacity to address climate change”.

Find more details on China’s climate change plan here.

China will be participating in a summit of G8 countries plus large developing nations this week in Germany. G8 President and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has set energy and climate change atop the agenda, and leaders are seeking to build consensus on a global approach for the post-Kyoto Protocol period beginning in 2012.

The European Union wants industrialized nations to agree to cut energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 and raise energy efficiency in transport and power generation by the same amount over the same period. The plan also calls for actions to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degree Celsius this century and to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The EU proposal has been rejected by the United States, which wants an agreement that includes major emitters such as China and India, and favours technology development and voluntary targets rather than hard caps with emissions trading. China and the United States, as the world’s largest GHG emitters, could well dictate the success of the meeting.

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