June 4 ¡ª With global warming high on the agenda for the world's industrial
powers gathering later this week in Germany, China staked out its position on
Monday by releasing its first national strategy on climate change, a plan that
promises to improve energy efficiency but rejects any mandatory caps on
greenhouse gas emissions.
The 62-page plan, two years in the making, served at least partly as a rebuff
to separate efforts by President Bush and European nations to draw China and
other developing countries into a commitment to reduce emissions, which was
expected to be a focal point at the expanded summit meeting of the Group of 8
China has resisted mandatory reductions in emissions, arguing that it is
still a developing country and needs to balance environmental improvements with
maintaining economic growth.
President Bush, trying to blunt criticism of his own record on global
warming, proposed last Thursday a new negotiating framework in which the 15
countries that produce the most greenhouse gas emissions would meet this fall in
Washington. Each country would establish its own targets and plan to slow
emissions in the next 10 or 20 years, while the group would work to set a
long-term global goal for substantially cutting emissions.
But some experts say the Bush administration's approach is compromised
because, like China, the United States opposes a mandatory cap on its emissions.
"China is not going to act in any sort of mandatory-control way until the
United States does first," said Joseph Kruger, policy director for the National
Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group in Washington.
Along with India and other large developing countries, China has long
maintained that the established industrial powers need to act first because they
built their wealth largely by burning fossil fuels and adding to the
atmosphere's blanket of greenhouse gases.
"Our general stance is that China will not commit to any quantified emissions
reduction targets, but that does not mean we will not assume responsibilities in
responding to climate change," said Ma Kai, head of China's powerful economic
planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.
The report unveiled by Mr. Ma emphasizes trying to control greenhouse gas
emissions by improving energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2010. But, in broad
terms, the plan merely restates Beijing's position that mandatory emissions caps
are unfair to China and other developing countries still trying to modernize and
improve living standards.
China, with the world's fastest-growing major economy, had been projected to
surpass the United States by 2009 or 2010 as the world's biggest emitter of
greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, which scientists say cause global
warming. But China's coal-based, high-polluting economy is growing so rapidly
that the chief economist for the International Energy Agency is now predicting
the country could become the global emissions leader as soon as this year.
Fatih Birol, the agency's chief economist, warned that China must begin
curbing its current rate of emissions. If not, he predicted that within 25 years
China's output of carbon dioxide emissions could amount to twice the combined
emissions of the world's richest nations ¡ª including the United States, members
of the European Union and Japan.
At his news conference on Monday, Mr. Ma applauded Mr. Bush's proposal but
emphasized that any effort in Washington should complement, not replace, the
existing framework, including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, sponsored by the United
Nations. Under the Kyoto Protocol, participating industrialized nations are
subjected to caps on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, while developing
countries, including China and India, are exempt.
The Bush administration rejected the agreement because of those exemptions,
and said the cuts would harm its economy.
Mr. Ma stressed that as a latecomer to industrialization, China had produced
only a small fraction of the world's greenhouse gases, and that its current per
capita emissions equaled a small fraction of the rate in the United States.
Mr. Birol, the I.E.A. economist, agreed that the developed world was
responsible for the bulk of emissions and should play a leading role in finding
a solution. But he said that no plan could succeed without a major role for
China and that making distinctions between "total emissions" and "per capita
emissions" obscured the larger point.
"The atmosphere does not make a distinction if it is cumulative or a per
capita emission," Mr. Birol said in a telephone interview. "Either way, it is a
problem for all of us."
The centerpiece of China's approach to controlling emissions is an existing
plan that calls for a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency between 2006
and 2010. Mr. Ma noted that China had passed new laws on environmental
protection and energy efficiency, and that factories across the country were
beginning to improve. He said fiscal and tax policies were being revised to
reward clean industry and punish high-polluting factories.
China's high economic growth rate, the energy efficiency program would, at best,
slow increases in emissions rather than reduce them. And it is far from certain
that China will be able to meet the 20 percent goal. Under the plan, China
should have netted a 4 percent reduction in 2006 in the amount of energy needed
to generate each unit of gross domestic product. Instead, environmental
officials announced earlier this year that the country had failed to meet that
China is heavily dependent on coal, which currently accounts for about 68
percent of its energy. Under the climate change program, China is planning a
major expansion of nuclear power, as well as renewable energy sources. The plan
calls for renewable energy to account for 10 percent of the country's power
supply by 2010. China is also in the midst of a nationwide reforestation program
to help absorb greenhouse gases.
Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, said that while it
was clear that China was aware of looming climate risks, the central government
lacked the legal structures and institutions to enforce a mandatory emissions
"The central government can't control what gets built," he said, noting the
example of illegal factories for making coke used by the steel industry that
were closed and repeatedly reopened.
James L. Connaughton, the lead White House official on the environment, said
last week that a central goal of the Bush administration's new plan is to reach
out to China, India, Korea and other fast-growing Asian countries to help
eliminate barriers to emissions cuts, including the high tariffs China now
charges on imported pollution-controlling technology.
In return, he said, wealthy countries could offer developing countries new
energy technologies created with government research money at a discount.
Mr. Connaughton said that one vital tool, particularly given China's
exploding use of coal, would be the development of systems for capturing carbon
dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning fuel, and pumping it underground.
"China will use four times more coal than the United States by the end of
2020," he said. "We have to accelerate producing power from coal without