With China's carbon footprint expected to outsize America's
within a year, officials in Beijing appear to be backing away from
their view that global warming is a Western problem that developed
countries must solve.
While still insisting on their right to industrialize hundreds of
millions of Chinese out of poverty, Chinese leaders are showing the
first tentative signs of readiness to accept mandatory emissions-
reductions targets. And they are setting themselves all kinds of
As the world's No. 2 greenhouse-gas culprit - closing in on the 6
billion tons of CO2 produced by the US annually - China is under
pressure both from other nations and from its own scientists'
predictions of a potentially catastrophic future if global warming
is not curbed.
"Climate change has become a huge challenge to China's social and
economic sustained development," Zheng Guoguang, head of the China
Meteorological Administration, said Monday. "China is determined to
mitigate and respond to climate change as a responsible nation."
The signals of how it will do so are mixed. On the one hand,
Premier Wen Jiabao announced earlier this month, on a visit to
Japan, that his country would "proactively participate in building
an effective framework from 2013" to replace the Kyoto Protocol's
binding targets for greenhouse-gas reductions.
That regime, which will emerge from several years of global
negotiations, seems certain to impose binding targets on every
nation: At the moment, China is not obliged to meet any Kyoto
standards because it is a developing country.
At the same time, China's first Climate Change Assessment Report,
dated September 2006 but broadly distributed last weekend, rejects
"If we prematurely assume responsibilities for mandatory
greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, the direct consequence will be
to constrain China's current energy and manufacturing industries and
weaken the competitiveness of Chinese products," the report warns,
adding that, "For a considerable time to come, developing the
economy and improving people's lives remains the country's primary
Four months ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris
predicted that China would not be emitting more heat-trapping CO2
than the US until 2010. But with Chinese growth steaming ahead at an
annual 11.1 percent so far this year, and with energy-intensive
industries such as aluminum expanding by 43 percent, the energy
watchdog has brought its estimate forward by two years.
Grim outlook if China doesn't act
If nothing were done, within 25 years China's emissions would be
double the combined output of all industrialized nations, said Fatih
Birol, the IEA's chief economist. That is largely because China is
fueling its growth with coal, a noxious source of CO2 and other
pollutants. As the largest producer and consumer of coal in the
world, China uses the fossil fuel to generate 69 percent of its
primary energy, according to official figures.
The effects are visible and getting worse, Chinese scientists are
On the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, "one quarter of the glaciers that
existed 350 years ago have disappeared," Qin Dahe, a former Chinese
climate-change negotiator, said Monday. …