1 August 2008

China trying to make a difference

China, pilloried as the world's biggest polluter, has quietly taken a lead in moving to a low carbon economy, an independent climate advisory group said on Friday.

Although it is building one coal-fired power station a week and its carbon dioxide emissions have surged since 2002, from seven percent of the global total to more than 24 per cent, China is also making strides in renewable energy and green technology.

"Everybody sees China as this monster polluter, but it is doing so much more than that," said Changhua Wu, China director of The Climate Group -- an independent, non-profit organization advising business and governments on combating climate change.

“China is already leading in certain types of technologies. In the power sector it is in clean coal, solar, wind. In transport it is developing more efficient compact cars and electric cars,” she said in London, where she is launching the report, "China's Clean Revolution". She noted, however, that China still had a long way to go.

China produces carbon emissions of 5.1 tons per head -- one quarter of the United States -- but with a population of 1.3 billion people it would equal the planet's entire emissions on its own if it hit US levels.

Washington says it can do nothing to combat global warming unless Beijing takes steps to cut its booming emissions of climate changing carbon gases from burning fossil fuels for power and transport.

For its part China, along with other major developing countries, argues that most of the carbon in the atmosphere was put there by the rich developed nations who must therefore shoulder the burden of dealing with its causes and effects.

“Developed countries really need to demonstrate their sincerity, demonstrate the feasibility of the solutions, really demonstrate that they are serious about this,” said Wu. “Telling developing countries that they must do it when they themselves are not, just not acceptable.”

While on the surface it appears to be a major diplomatic standoff, China is already acting on its own, driven by serious domestic stress from rampant pollution and rising food prices caused in part by replacement for biofuel production.


"In China the top leadership are all of the same mindset. China opened up 30 years ago. But our economic miracle was driven by intense resource use that produced great pollution and recently unrest," Wu said in an interview.

"That is fully understood. The leadership has been thinking about a new pathway. They know they can't repeat the path of the past. They know it has to be clean, it has to be more efficient. Low carbon has now been integrated into this new pathway."

The report says China is the world's top maker of solar power panels, is set to become the top exporter of wind turbines and has two-thirds of the global market in solar water heaters.

China is also is a leading producer of energy efficient domestic appliances and rechargeable batteries.

At the same time it has brought in stringent measures to boost fuel efficiency and has boosted production of electric-powered bicycles and efficient compact cars.

"China has got the green message. Companies are making profits in pushing forward the low carbon economy," Wu said.

Much as Japan, rebuilding from scratch after World War Two, led the industrial boom in the global economy, so leading developing countries like China and India are looking to lead the world into the low carbon age.

"The thinking in China is that there is no doubt that in 20 or 30 years time China will be a world leader," Wu said.

"To be a respected, responsible leader of the world we have to start thinking now about what we should do to lead up to the day when China has to lead and will be able to lead well. Climate change is one of the key issues there."

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