ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
And here's another story in our series Climate Connections. Climate Connections is a project with National Geographic, examining how climate changes people and how people change the climate. And today, we visit China.
The country is under increasing pressure to take action on climate change. In the not too distant future, China is expected to overtake the U.S. as the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide.
In international talks, Beijing has resisted calls for global caps on greenhouse gas emissions, but at home, it has set ambitious goals for saving energy and for reducing emissions.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.
ANTHONY KUHN: China was due to release a national action plan on climate change in late April, but it delayed releasing the document without explaining why. Yang Ailun, an energy expert for Greenpeace China, says Beijing is waiting to show its hand.
Ms. YANG AILUN (Energy Expert, Greenpeace): The reason why China postponed the release of the national plan, I would think that it's - the Chinese government want to have more bargaining power in the international negotiation. It doesn't want to show the bottom line.
KUHN: In official pronouncements, China describes the emissions issue as nothing less than a political struggle for its right to develop. It expects already developed countries to take the lead in reducing emissions and sharing clean energy technology, and it will not agree to mandatory emissions caps that it feels would limit its economic growth. But China's domestic policies are another story. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Clean Air Policy recently finished a study that showed that these policies could significantly reduce pollution. Ned Helme is the group's founder.
Mr. NED HELME (President, Center for Clean Air Policy): The surprising finding we had was that China was already taking a lot of actions that would lead them to make reductions comparable to or greater than what the United States had proposed under the Bush administration's voluntary target through 2010.
KUHN: The policies include raising energy efficiency for China's heavy industry sector, which contributes 70 percent of its pollution. China is also aiming to meet 16 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. And, Helme notes, between 2005 and 2010, China aims to reduce the amount of energy it uses for each unit of economic output by 20 percent.
Mr. HELME: That would make them the largest single aggregate CO2-reducing country in the world if they were able to meet that target. Now in the first year, you know, 2006, they basically - they're supposed to get four percent reduction, they got 1.23 percent. So while only one percent, well, that's 70 million tons of reduction.
KUHN: Despite any improvements in efficiency, China's emissions are still expected to increase faster than anyone else's. This would effectively cancel out reductions by developed nations.
Emissions are rising quickly because China has just entered a phase of economic development dominated by heavy industry and infrastructure building. Greenpeace China's Yang Ailun points out that China's role as factory to the world has energy implications too.
Ms. AILUN: Think about how many products made in China every American citizen purchase. Whenever you buy something made in China, you should also realize that when it's made in China, some part of energy is consumed and some part of emission is produced in China.
KUHN: Yang says that domestic factors such as energy security, economic competitiveness and local pollution are also driving China's policies, not just concerns about global climate change.
Surviving climate change is another key part of the plan. Luo Yong the Deputy Director of China's National Climate Center, predicts that rising temperatures will bring the country more droughts, stronger typhoons and declining agricultural yields.
Dr. LUO YUNG (Deputy Director-General, The National Climate Center): (Through translator) As a developing nation, China is more fragile and more likely to be affected by climate change. Adaptation must be a key part of our response. We must develop responses to climate change's impact on agriculture, water resources and rising sea levels.
KUHN: Luo says this would require building higher dikes, breeding hardier strains of crops and channeling water to arid areas. And with any policy in China, you always have to factor in the nation's huge population.
Pan Jiahua, Director of The Sustainable Development Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, explains why.
Professor PAN JIAHUA (Executive Director, Research Center for Sustainable Development): (Chinese spoken)
ANTHONY KUHN: Take our population control policy for example, he says. The figure showed that since we started advocating family planning in 1975, the policy has resulted in 400 million fewer births. Does that count as emissions control? Sure, it does.
Population is at the heart of one of China's main arguments. On a per capita basis, the average Chinese uses about one-thirteenth of the oil and produces one-seventh of the carbon dioxide of the average American. That implies a dilemma - China's 1.3 billion people reaching US per capita emission levels would be an environmental nightmare, but denying Chinese equal standards of living would be unfair.
If there's reason for hope, it's the gradual growth of environmental consciousness in China. It includes the idea that lifestyles that squander the planet's natural capital are nothing for anyone to aspire to.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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