China 'will agree to cut its carbon emissions'

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The Independent Online

China, now the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, will eventually agree to cut its soaring carbon dioxide emissions, one of the country's leading environmentalists forecast yesterday – but only on the basis of a deal with the United States and the rest of the developed world.

The Chinese would be very unlikely to set their own unilateral target for reducing CO2, said Professor C S Kiang, the founding dean of the College of Environmental Science at the University of Beijing. But they would join in the next, post-2012 stage of the Kyoto protocol, the international climate change treaty, and seek to reduce their emissions to a definite figure, as long as this was part of a global agreement that involved all countries acting together – including the US – and the transfer to China of modern energy technology, he said.

However, no agreement was likely at next month's major international meeting in Bali, Indonesia, of the parties to the protocol, which will seek to define the way forward in the treaty, said Professor Kiang, who is in London to give a speech at the Be The Change environmental conference from Thursday to Saturday. The professor, a former atmospheric scientist in the US, has close connections to the Chinese leadership, but was talking to The Independent on a personal basis.

He also said agreement was unlikely to be met with the negotiating forum of the "G8 plus Five" – the rich countries of the G8 bloc in climate change talks with the five leading developing nations of China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico, a formula instituted by Tony Blair at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005.

In the G8 plus Five, the developing countries were only observers and there needed to be a more equitable formula, Professor Kiang said. He is proposing a high-level summit on climate change between China and India, so that the developing countries can set up their own powerful negotiating block.

He also suggested no agreement would be possible until after next year's US election. President George Bush's withdrawal of the US from Kyoto in 2001, with the abandonment of US climate targets, has been a major stumbling block to developing countries. "But by 2009-10, we might see light at the end of the tunnel," Professor Kiang said.

The Chinese have ratified Kyoto, but in the first phase of the treaty they, like the rest of the developing countries, do not have to make any commitment to cut their emissions.

Professor Kiang said the Chinese leadership was fully aware of the global warming threat and the need to combat it, although he did not see this as being perceived yet by the man in the street.

He said that the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, had spoken at the Communist Party Conference last month of the need to build an "ecological civilisation", and pointed out that in the 11th five-year plan, which began last year, there was a target to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent – the first time in modern Chinese history that any consideration about energy had been considered other than security of supply, or that any such target had been set. There was also a similar target to cut pollution nationwide by 10 per cent. But to make major changes was difficult. "China has spent 30 years concentrating on economic growth, without paying much attention to the environment," he said. The government did not centrally control all the new energy infrastructure, and in some ways did not control economic development itself.

He added: "To have people living in harmony with nature is a very ancient Chinese value – but it's very different from the class struggle of communism. So it's not easy when you make such an ideological change. In China, everything is possible, but nothing is easy. You've got to know China. They will never ever say no. But their yes – well, that may take some time."

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