China Resists Emission Caps in Climate Policy

China released its national action plan on climate change Monday, but said that mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions would unfairly limit room for the nation's economic growth. China is expected to overtake the U.S. as the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide.

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This is the week that the leading Western industrial nations plus Russia meet in Germany. It's known as the G8 Meeting. And the leaders are likely to focus on China's role in global warming. China is expected to overtake the United States in the near future as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Today, by the way, China released a national action plan on what it will do to cut its emissions and what it won't.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: China's national climate change action plan is the first by a developing nation. Its release ahead of the G8 Summit was clearly time to address international concerns about China's climate change policies.

Ma Kai is director of China's National Development and Reform Commission, the economic planning body that prepared the plan. He told reporters that for developing nations, the global warming issue is all about development.

Mr. MA KAI (Director, National Development and Reform Commission, People's Republic of China): (Through translator) They're overriding priority at the moment is still economic development and poverty eradication. So when calling for efforts to tackle climate change, the international community should take into full account the right to development of these developing countries.

KUHN: Ma restated China's position that mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions would unfairly limit China's room for economic growth. He said that China will reduce emissions in order to keep its development sustainable, not because of international pressure.

Mr. MA: (Through translator) China does not commit to any quantified emissions reduction commitments, but that does not mean that China will not shoulder its share of responsibility for global climate change.

KUHN: The plan itself mostly sums up existing policies. These include China's target of reducing the amount of energy it uses for each unit of economic output by 20 percent by 2010. It also plans to increase forest coverage to 20 percent, and increase the amount of energy it gets from renewable sources such as solar and hydropower to 10 percent by the end of the decade.

China currently meets two-thirds of its energy needs from coal, one of the most polluting fuels. Ma said that China aims to leapfrog directly to cleaner technologies.

Mr. MA: (Through translator) In its course of modernization, China will not tread the traditional path to industrialization featuring high consumption and high emissions. Instead, we want to blaze a new path.

KUHN: In China, though, the problem is often not with its laws and policies, but with their implementation. Local officials get promoted for pumping up economic growth, not for cutting pollution, and the national plan does not address this problem.

Pan Jiahua is director of the Sustainable Development Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He helped to draft the national plan, but he's skeptical that China can meet its emissions reduction targets in the short term.

Mr. PAN JIAHUA (Director, Sustainable Development Research Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): (Through translator) America has been successful than using market mechanisms to raise energy efficiency and protect the environment. We need to learn from this. China still relies on old methods of command and control that are not very effective.

KUHN: Analysts point out that some of China's targets in saving energy and reducing emissions are quite aggressive. For example, China has slapped excise taxes of up to 20 percent on sports utility vehicles. It plans to raise fuel efficiency requirements for passenger cars to as much as 37 miles per gallon by next year.

And its investment in renewable energy sources compares well with that of more developed nations. But China is sensitive to criticism that its rising emissions threaten the world's environment. Observers say that Beijing has assumed the defensive position instead of helping to set the agenda for responding to global warming.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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