China Outlines Modest Environmental Goals

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

BEIJING, June 4 -- China released its first-ever national climate change policy Monday, rejecting mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases as unfair and a threat to the development that has contributed to the country's meteoric economic growth.

Although China is one of the world's largest producers of carbon dioxide, the government made clear that it will not shoulder the burden necessary for change.

"It is neither fair nor acceptable to us to impose too early, too abruptly or too bluntly measures which one would ask of developed countries," Ma Kai, minister of the cabinet-level National Development and Reform Commission, said at a news conference.

The government outlined a series of environmental goals it is seeking to meet by 2010, from speeding up research and development to raising public awareness about conservation.

But the plans included little in the way of initiatives. Instead, they appeared designed to put the best face on environmental efforts so far and to preempt criticism likely to come later this week when President Hu Jintao attends a meeting of Group of Eight leaders in Germany.

The United States and China are pointing fingers at each other in a standoff over who bears greater responsibility for curbing emissions. As a developing nation, China is exempt from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the international pact that imposed mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases. The Bush administration has refused to ratify it. Meanwhile, although the United States currently emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation, China is expected to surpass it in the next few years.

Analysts said Monday that China's rejection of mandatory caps puts more pressure on the United States.

"I see China as being quite reasonable -- they will do what is possible, but they will not put their growth at risk," said Richard Welford, a climate change expert at Hong Kong University. "China has 20 percent of the world's population, but they only produce 15 percent of the carbon dioxide. America has 5 percent of the population and produces 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide. America must take the lead."

In an initiative put forward last week, President Bush called for the 15 countries that produce the most emissions, including China and India, to set goals and devise their own strategies to meet them. On Monday, Ma praised Bush's announcement, saying there was agreement that "efforts to fight climate change must not come at the expense of economic growth." But he argued that Bush's initiative was a "useful complement" to Kyoto, not a substitute.

In China, the factors that have contributed to a red-hot economy are the same ones that have made the country such a heavy emitter of greenhouse gases. Although the automobile industry is thriving -- Beijing adds more than 1,200 cars to its streets every day -- exhaust from those cars is contributing to global warming. To satisfy its hunger for energy, China builds a new coal-fired power station every 12 days even though coal is also a major culprit in climate change.

Officials in Beijing are well aware that environmental problems could undermine the country's growth. China is home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, according to the World Bank, and experts estimate that 300,000 people die in the country each year as result of problems related to urban outdoor air quality.

The 62-page report released Monday calls for a variety of environmental goals to be met in the next three years. The government will promote or develop more renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind power and solar power, as well as nuclear power. It will also increase its forest coverage rate to help soak up carbon dioxide.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company