China Climate Offensive Has Eye on Growth
BEIJING -- China, soon to be the world's biggest greenhouse gas polluter, has gone on the offensive in global warming politics, opposing emissions caps likely to shape contentious negotiations about solutions.
China objects to much in the draft of the latest U.N. report on global warming driven by greenhouse gases being discussed by scientists and officials in Bangkok this week, aiming to protect long-term growth plans from pressure to cut emissions.
"China doesn't want to be corralled into commitments that minimise its freedom of action and questioning the science, and digging in is part of that," said Paul Harris, an expert on climate change politics at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
China plans fast industrialisation for decades to come and its output of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas pollutant, could outstrip that of the United States as early as this year, the International Energy Agency says.
So, under an international glare of attention ahead of talks about greenhouse gas rules after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, Beijing has gone on the offensive.
"It wants to put off into the future the serious discussion of accepting mandatory limits," Harris said.
China's government does not doubt global warming as such.
A recent official assessment said intensified droughts and floods, unpredictable weather and rising sea levels could threaten long-term development.
But, it said: "With uncertainties about climate change, there should not be premature or over-zealous setting of overall global carbon emissions caps."
The Global Times, a newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party, accused Western politicians last week of using "climate terrorism" to undermine China's quest for prosperity.
"All of a sudden, it's not so much China as the victim of climate change, but about how much responsibility China should bear," said Yang Ailun of Greenpeace Chinashe. "They're worried about being boxed in."
China had challenged U.N. climate panel draft reports at earlier meetings.
In Brussels last month, China vehemently objected to wording about the likelihood climate change was affecting natural systems and succeeded in getting parts of the report cut or softened.
"I guess they're concerned that if they subscribe to a certain scientific proposition, that will have implications for their post-Kyoto negotiating position," said Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, who attended the Brussels meeting.
Lin Erda of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, a member of the U.N. climate panel, said China was more confident it could adapt to hotter temperatures and calls for drastic action were not justified by science.
"If we say climate change will be too far gone by tomorrow and it's all negative, then we have to act today," he said. "If we say it will happen after 100 days, then we still have 50 days for development."
Even a 4 degree C rise above average temperatures of past decades did not necessarily spell the calamity some experts predicted, Lin said. "There may be more negative impacts, but we can't conclude that all would be lost."
China's climate change assessment suggests seeking to cut the greenhouse gases it emits for each dollar of economic activity nearly in half by 2020. But it foresees emissions rising in absolute terms until 2050 at least.
China had reason to demand that wealthy countries with much higher per capita emissions lead the way and do more to share energy-saving technology, said Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, who has been part of the U.N. climate panel work.
China's objections could be a "game of chicken" to win more aid, he said.
"This could be a lot of posturing for the purpose of trying to get a better side deal. Just don't do it for too long."