China Wants West to Fund Its Cleanup; Surpasses U.S. as Top Polluter

Article excerpt


BEIJING -- China is trying to persuade rich nations to finance its fight against climate change just as the developed world is tightening its purse strings.

The Chinese government used a two-day conference in Beijing, which ended Saturday, to trumpet proposals for rich economies to devote up to 1 percent of their gross domestic product to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The developed countries have a responsibility and an obligation to respond to global climate change by altering their unsustainable way of life, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told representatives of 76 nations.

China has been quick to grab the initiative in global climate change talks, wary of pressure over its own ballooning emissions.

Scientists say China has already overtaken the United

States as the world's biggest polluter. The Chinese government did not refer to this in a recent white paper, but a senior official admitted for the first time that China's total emissions were about the same as the United States.

Whether or not we have surpassed the United States is not in itself important, Xie Zhenhua, a deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told the conference.

The timing of the meeting was significant. A major United Nations climate change conference is to be held in the Polish city of Poznan in December. Negotiators will continue a quest to agree on a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The Chinese government recognizes the urgent need to tackle the repercussions of its explosive, and ultimately unsustainable, industrial growth. State media has widely reported that climate change is causing crop failure and increasing the risks of flooding and drought. Environment-related protests are also on the rise.

However, the central government insists that it is not prepared to impede economic progress through the implementation of environmental measures.

Instead, China is demanding that rich nations set aside between 0.7 percent and 1 percent of their GDP to help poorer nations cut emissions. That amounts to more than $300 billion a year from the Group of Seven countries. The bulk of the money would be used to transfer advanced technology to combat climate change.

China is also advocating the establishment of an intergovernmental body overseen by the United Nations to coordinate technology transfers and handle issues such as protecting intellectual property rights.

Countries including the United States reply that developing countries should first agree to cap their emissions. But China argues that any limits would compromise poverty reduction goals.

Beijing's view is that developed nations are responsible for the lion's share of greenhouse gases and that poorer nations should not be punished for rich nations' historical excesses.

Meanwhile, experts express doubts over the viability of technology transfer as the financial crisis squeezes government budgets.

Harlan L. Watson, the U.S. State Department's special envoy to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said climate change comes second to dealing with economic ills. …