Economic crisis may prompt faster Chinese action on climate front

November 27th, 2008 - 9:28 am ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Nov 27 (DPA) China is already the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to some estimates, putting it at the centre of international debate on how to combat climate change.An action plan last year reaffirmed China’s commitment to reduce energy consumption compared to economic output by about four percent annually, and emissions of major pollutants by two percent a year to 2010.

Those targets looked ambitious, but the widening global financial crisis may benefit China’s pollution control efforts by cutting industrial carbon emissions and by accelerating investment in projects designed to reduce emissions.

“When the economy is slowing and factories are closing, fuel consumption is sure to fall,” Song Guojun, an environment expert at People’s University in Beijing, told DPA.

Song said he thought the slowdown that has already closed hundreds of export-oriented factories in south-eastern China would pass relatively quickly, but he said the government was fully committed to reducing emissions regardless of the economic circumstances.

Experts at a recent national forum on environment and development agreed that the global economic downturn provided a “great opportunity for the country to adjust its old industrial structure and morph into a low carbon society through innovation”, the China Daily newspaper reported.

In early November, the government announced a four-trillion-yuan ($586 billion) package of infrastructure spending that would finance 10 major infrastructure programmes over the next two years.

“China’s central government put environmental protection in a strategic position with its four-trillion-yuan investment package to boost domestic demand and improve the quality of life,” the newspaper quoted Vice Premier Li Keqiang as telling the forum.

Nuclear power, clean-coal technology and hydro, solar and wind energy projects could all benefit from the increased spending.

China is considering expanding its already huge nuclear power programme to develop a total generating capacity of 70 million kw by 2020, 75 percent higher than the target set in 2006, state media reported in early November.

“Against the background of global climate change, nuclear power development is very important,” said Liu Deshun, an energy expert at Beijing’s Qinghua University.

Nuclear power is forecast to generate less than 10 percent of China’s electricity for several more decades, Liu said.

Scores of solar power, wind power and sometimes controversial hydro-power projects are also under development but are likely to provide an even smaller percentage of China’s electricity.

Coal provides more than two-thirds of China’s energy needs and must fuel China’s economic development for many more years, making the use of high-efficiency boilers and other “clean coal” technology crucial to the nation’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

But faced with rising unemployment and the need to stimulate growth in China’s economically backward but heavily populated inland areas, China’s ruling Communist Party says it cannot afford mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions until the country is richer.

“If you ask a developing country to take on obligations of reducing emissions, you should give it the space to develop,” Liu said.

China accepts the UN principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” for developing and developed nations.

China favours a relative target of reducing energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), meaning its absolute emissions could continue to grow as its economy does.

It argues that its per capita greenhouse gas emissions are still below the global average and about one-fifth the level of the United States, but it emits about 35 percent more carbon dioxide per unit of GDP than the US and 100 percent more than the European Union.

At a UN-sponsored conference on climate change in Beijing in November, Chinese leaders urged developed nations to take the lead on climate change and share technology to help developing nations to reduce carbon emissions.

Measures to address climate change must “narrow, but not widen, the gap between rich and poor,” while developed nations should “alter their unsustainable way of life,” Chinese premier Wen Jiabao Wen told the meeting.

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