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China, U.S. face off on climate policies

China said Friday it will not consider mandatory cuts on greenhouse gases, saying the United States and other industrialized countries should take the lead in fighting climate change.
Bali Climate Conference
Activists turn their backs on Indonesian police after they were stopped from going into the U.N. climate talks Friday on Bali, Indonesia.Firdia Lisnawati / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

China said Friday it will not consider mandatory cuts on greenhouse gases, saying the United States and other industrialized countries should take the lead in fighting climate change by embracing a less-extravagant lifestyle.

China, which some believed has surpassed the United States as the world's top emitter of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, also questioned the fairness of binding cuts when its per capita emissions are about one-sixth of those by the United States

It also noted that it's only been pumping pollutants into the atmosphere for the last few decades, whereas the West has done so for much longer.

"China is in the process of industrialization and there is a need for economic growth to meet the basic needs of the people and fight against poverty," said Su Wei, a member of the country's delegation at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali.

"I just wonder whether it's fair to ask developing countries like China to take on binding targets or mandatory targets," Su said. "I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it's possible to change (its) lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate."

Delegates from nearly 190 nations are attending the Dec. 3-14 gathering charged with launching negotiations that will lead to an international accord to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Kyoto, which was rejected by the United States, commits three dozen industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gases an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels between next year and 2012, when it expires.

Bush position
One of the factors that led President Bush to reject Kyoto was the complaint that fast-developing countries such as China, India and Brazil were not required to cut their emissions under the pact.

U.S. climate chief Harlan Watson opened the American's two briefings this week by outlining how Washington is fighting global warming its own way, with technology, aid and economic growth. He has denied the U.S. feels isolated.

The Bush administration says imposing mandatory emissions cuts will harm economic growth, and favors individual countries setting their own goals instead. Washington also backs private sector initiatives to develop energy-saving technology and alternative energy sources, such as ethanol and other biofuels. It also says industry should devise ways to burn coal and other fossil fuels more cleanly.

Still, conference delegates recognize a deal without the United States is meaningless.

The U.S. is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and is home to the globe's largest economy. Robust participation by Washington in a climate accord puts enormous resources at the disposal of the anti-global warming fight.

Views on China change
China, for its part, is now being seen as playing a constructive role at the Bali conference after  years of dodging the issue and appearing defensive on global warming.

"I think China is taking climate change seriously and that's a good sign that there will be a good outcome here in Bali," said Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the European Commission delegation at the conference on the Indonesian island.

China has expressed support for a post-Kyoto agreement and used the conference to spread the message that it is doing plenty to address climate change — from boosting it use of renewable energy to 10 percent by 2010 and improving their energy efficiency by 20 percent. It also has launched a massive tree planting program and has rolled out a national climate change policy.

"China is acting. We will do what we should and what we can do," Su said, describing his country's climate policy as ambitious," Su said. "All we care for is the well-being and the future of mankind."

Even hard-to-please environmental groups who relish lambasting industrialized countries for pollution are praising Beijing, although it's clear China has more to do. It relies heavily on dirty, outdated coal burning techniques, has 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, and some of the most polluted rivers.

Nations ranked by emissions
China's ranking on Germanwatch's 40th annual index, which ranks 56 industrialized and emerging countries, was an improvement of four places over last year, the group said Friday.

The United States and Saudi Arabia were the worst on the list, at 55th and 56th places, respectively.

Environmental watchdog Germanwatch noted the Chinese government has enacted policies promoting renewable energy, including mandates that solar, wind, hydroelectric and other forms of renewable energy provide 10 percent of the nation's power by 2010. It also has ordered key industries to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent.

Politicians and activists said China's defensive posture of the past has given way to constructive discussions at the Bali conference. Beijing has also taken the lead among developing countries in calling for wealthier nations to speed up the transfer of cleaner technologies to emerging economies to help shift away from fossil fuels.

Hans Verolme, director of WWF International's Global Climate Change Program, attributed China's position to concerns over energy security and a recognition that climate change is already having a severe impact on the country, with worsening drought, water shortages and floods.

"China has made up its mind about a year ago that it was going to get serious," Verolme said. "They want to show to the world it understands and it wants to do what is necessary to stop dangerous climate change."