China rallies developing nations, puts focus on US
By Bill Smith Nov 25, 2011, 2:31 GMT
Beijing - China has promoted itself as a champion of the developing world ahead of climate change talks by rallying key allies to push developed nations to agree to binding targets for reducing carbon emissions.
It insists that negotiations in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 to December 9, yield a long-term deal on emissions reductions to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. It also demands that the United States finally get on board with binding pledges while developing countries continue to be exempt.
'There must be a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol,' Xie Zhenhua, China's chief negotiator on climate change, said after meeting his counterparts from Brazil, South Africa and India in Beijing in early November.
The prospects for extension are slim. Russia, Canada and Japan will not be signing up. The European Union says it would push forward if there is a mandate to reopen negotiations in the coming years, but only if the US and China - which together emit about 40 per cent of greenhouse gasses blamed for global warming - make binding commitments.
The US in turn is waiting for its economic rival China and other emerging economies like India to make binding commitments, bringing the stalemate full circle.
At the Beijing meeting, the four countries called on the United States and other developed nations to commit to binding targets under the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' for developed and developing nations.
They said developed nations should honour their commitments, made in 2009, to provide 100 billion dollars annually by 2020 for developing nations to tackle climate change. There will likely be a fight over the Green Climate Fund in Durban, since the US and Saudi Arabia have blocked a consensus document, observers say.
In 2009, China joined more than 100 other countries in making voluntary pledges for reductions, saying that by 2020, it would reduce emissions by 40-45 per cent from 2005 levels, measured per unit of growth rather than actual volume. Given its 9-10 per cent annual growth rate, China's emissions would still double over 10 years despite such reductions, noted Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
Climate scientists say the volume of world emissions must drop by 20 to 25 per cent by 2020, measured against 1990 volume, in order to avoid catastrophic global warming.
China's per-capita emissions rate could reach US rates as early as 2017 if current trends continue, an EU and Dutch government report recently forecast. The world's most populous nation had already equalled Italy and overtaken France in per capita emissions, it said.
Such figures are unlikely to spur China, already the world's biggest emitter, to make radical changes to its energy policies.
France's relatively low per capita emission rate was mainly due to its use of nuclear power for about two-thirds of its energy, said Zou Jie, deputy director of the environment department at People's University in Beijing.
But he noted the differences in levels of development.
'China has hundreds of millions farmers who don't have healthy water to drink and safe houses to live in right now,' Zou told dpa. 'So they need construction, chemical industries and so on, while Italy and France don't have to face this situation.'
The environmental expert conceded that China could not afford to be complacent over its huge and growing CO2 emissions, saying it should 'learn lessons from other developed countries, to avoid the problems they went through.'
China's chief negotiator Xie said in London recently that it would be a 'disaster for the world' if China's emissions reach the US per capita level. He was confident that China's 'low-carbon and green development path' would prevent that from happening.
'We are making efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon intensity is decreasing. We want to reach the peak as soon as possible,' Xie said at an international seminar.
China's ambitious programme to build dozens of nuclear plants over the next 20 years has been slowed by safety concerns following the tsunami accident at Japan's Fukushima plant, Zou noted.
'If China could reach 20 per cent of energy production from nuclear power by 2030, that would be a great achievement,' he said.
Even without nuclear expansion, Zou expects China to have 15-20 per cent non-fossil fuel in its energy mix by 2020, most of it from hydro power.
Solar and wind only produced 1-2 per cent of China's electricity, partly because of the difficulty of transmitting electricity from less populated areas where it is generated, Zou said.
Coal will remain the mainstay of its energy provision for at least two more decades, meaning the focus of efforts to mitigate climate change will continue to include China.
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