China Resists Mounting Pressure to Cut Emissions As the Montreal conference on climate change winds down, the participants are focusing increasingly on China, where emissions of greenhouse gases are surging. Chinese officials and industrialists are resisting pressure to limit emissions, saying China has a right to catch up with wealthy countries.
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China Resists Mounting Pressure to Cut Emissions

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China Resists Mounting Pressure to Cut Emissions

China Resists Mounting Pressure to Cut Emissions

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

All eyes are on China at the international climate change conference under way in Montreal. After the United States, China is the world's second-largest producer of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and its emissions are increasing faster than any other country's. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren spoke with some members of the Chinese delegation in Montreal.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

Chinese officials say a few things are certain. Their economy is growing fast, it's fueled primarily by coal, and that means greenhouse gas emissions are going to keep going up.

Ms. LI LIAN(ph) (Deputy Director, China's Climate Change Coordinating Committee): That's something nobody can change. Nobody can argue. That's a fact, simply.

SHOGREN: Li Lian is the deputy director of China's Climate Change Coordinating Committee. She says China can't do what rich countries promised to do when they signed the Kyoto protocol. They committed to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions. China, like other developing countries, didn't have to make such pledges. In Montreal, talk turned to the future and whether China would agree to emissions controls. But Li says China can't.

Ms. LI: It's clear. Not possible for the moment, according to our national circumstances and within our capacity and the capability. Even we want to do that, we can't do. We can't do.

SHOGREN: If China won't, the US says it won't, either. The US is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. But President Bush refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, in part because China and India didn't have to make commitments.

Mr. LU ZHENYOU (Ministry of Science and Technology, China): Such argument is not fair to China.

SHOGREN: Lu Zhenyou from China's Ministry of Science and Technology says developed countries like the United States caused the problem. They emitted most of the greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere over the last several decades.

Mr. LU: But more importantly is that actually they have more resources and the capability to deal with this issue, and so naturally they should also take more responsibilities to deal with it.

SHOGREN: China is still a poor country, where several hundred million people live below the poverty line. But Lu says it's doing more than people expected to fight climate change. Lu was surprised by how easily China's legislature passed a renewable energy law earlier this year.

Mr. LU: Because actually, it is a really ambitious law to stimulate the development of renewable energy.

SHOGREN: It sets a goal of meeting 15 percent of China's energy needs with wind, hydropower, biomass and other renewable energy sources. China also launched new automobile efficiency standards that independent experts say are tougher than US standards. And it required public buildings to raise thermostats in summer to reduce air conditioning. Li Lian from China's Climate Change Coordinating Committee says the policies weren't driven by a desire to protect the climate. Instead, China wants to make its coal resources go further and save on expensive, imported oil.

Ms. LI: The natural resource base is scarce, and if you have to do a major conservation, that's the prerequisite for us to make our developments sustainable.

SHOGREN: Li says the Kyoto Treaty helped in one way. It encourages developed countries to provide technology that helps China save energy. Whatever the motivation for China's policy changes, the Chinese government got a lot of credit in Montreal for taking steps that helped the global climate, even from environmental activists like Chau Li Ming(ph).

Ms. CHAU LI MING (Environmental Activist): Chinese government is working so hard domestically to try to reduce these emissions.

SHOGREN: Chau works on climate programs for the World Wildlife Fund in China. She seems particularly impressed by the government's requirement that public buildings keep air conditioners set at 79 degrees in the summer.

Ms. CHAU: It's amazing. If you see what Chinese government is trying to do, it's amazing.

SHOGREN: Chau points out that six Chinese people use as much energy as one American.

Ms. CHAU: So do you think it is worthwhile to ask American citizen like you to reduce its own emission or to restrict the needs of a Chinese person? I mean, this is an equity issue.

SHOGREN: Still, China likely will come under increased pressure, especially if it passes the US to become the number-one emitter of greenhouse gases. That's predicted to happen within the next 20 years. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.

NORRIS: You can read views from other countries on the Kyoto protocol at our Web site, npr.org.

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