China - new number one climate polluter?

Feature story - 20 June, 2007
According to a new study, China's carbon dioxide emissions last year were the largest in the world. But responsibility for China's soaring emissions lies not just in Beijing but also in Washington, Brussels and Tokyo.

Chinese pedestrian wears a mask to protect herself from thick pollution as she walks her dog in central Beijing December 3, 2004. Beijingers have been warned to stay indoors as heavy pollution has covered the city for three days. With its energy shortage reaching crisis levels, China is furiously building new coal-fired power plants, reversing years of improvements in pollution control.

The study, released today by the Netherlands Environmental AssessmentAgency, says that in 2006 China produced 6,200m tonnes of CO2pollution, compared with 5,800m tonnes from the US, which has long beenthe world's top climate polluter. 

Onereason for China's massive CO2 emissions is that over the years, theWest has effectively exported a great portion of it's manufacturingthere. No environmental conditions were attached to this manufacturingmove, and today we see the result.    

"The only thing corporations were interested in was the price of labour," said Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven on his blog."This trend kept the price of our products and inflation down, but atthe cost of soaring greenhouse gas emissions in China. In the longterm, this policy has been a climate disaster. It's the downside ofglobalisation."

No excuses for China

Coalaccounts for 69 percent of the primary energy in China - 42 percenthigher than the world's average. And China is beginning to realise theconsequences of burning fossil fuels, not least because it is alreadysuffering serious impacts from climate change including worseningtyphoons, desertification and melting glaciers.

"To develop in acleaner way is possible," said Ailun Yang, Greenpeace China Climate andEnergy Campaign Manager. "China has to decouple its economicdevelopment from the consumption of polluting fossil fuels.  TheChinese government needs to raise the development ambitions forrenewable energies and implement its binding energy efficiency targets."

Atthe beginning of June, China's National Climate Change Programmeoutlined measures China would take to combat climate change. This atleast shows that the Chinese government acknowledges the problems ofclimate change as well as the responsibility of China to help tacklingthese problems. However, the biggest problem with the NationalProgramme, as with government programmes everywhere, is the actualimplementation of its targets.

"Greenpeace urges governments at all levels in China to implement the National Plan on Climate Change," said Yang.

No excuses for anyone

Percapita the US remains the world's worst number one CO2 polluter. Onaverage, people in China are responsible for 3.5 tonnes of CO2 each peryear, whereas in the UK it's nearly 10 tonnes and for North Americansit's 20 tonnes.  The G8 (world's richest nations) are alsoresponsible for over 80 percent of the climate change we areexperiencing today, and still emit over 40 percent of all globalemissions.

"If we are to protect the global climate every helpmust be given to assist China to clean up its act. They put in theright supportive policy. We have the technology. The two must be puttogether," concluded Sauven. "But we also have to examine ourconsumption binge of cheap Chinese products made in factories dependenton very polluting forms of energy."

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