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Climate Change: Why China Matters

European Parliament

Climate change: why China matters

As the economy grows apace in China, so does pollution and it looks set to be a global problem. Ahead of the December UN Climate Change Conference in Bali a delegation from the Parliament's Temporary Committee on Climate Change, led by Chairman Guido Sacconi, visited Beijing to meet with key officials, politicians and experts.

The delegation concluded that China is politically committed to fighting climate change, but not yet ready to accept quantitative targets.

"As a fast growing economy China is also rapidly becoming one of the biggest polluters," said Mr Sacconi. "Establishing a new international climate change regime after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 will only be possible if countries like China or India which do not have emission reduction commitments under the current Kyoto Protocol are part of such an agreement."

Why China matters

In 1990 China's CO2 emissions were around 50% of US (the biggest producer) levels. Now China lies just behind the US and is expected to overtake it as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. With a booming economy and 1.3 billion people, China is the world's largest consumer of coal and oil consumption has doubled in the last 20 years. However, as a developing country it is not required to cut emissions under the 2002 Kyoto Protocol.

"China is strongly committed in the fight against climate change and to engage in the area of emissions reductions, energy-saving, and energy-efficiency. At the same time, it acknowledges the importance of cooperating with industrialised countries on technology and technology transfer, as well as the need for financial assistance in this field. These are certainly extremely positive messages," said Mr Sacconi.

However, he added, "One critical issue remains: the fact that, at this stage, China still considers that the current structure of the Kyoto Protocol should be maintained and developing countries, including emerging economies, should have no quantitative commitments."

China's commitment to fight global warming

"China has recently adopted a Climate Change Programme and is strongly committed to improve its energy efficiency. Our visit to Beijing...allowed us to establish personal contacts with government officials, members of the People's National Congress, as well as business and civil society representatives and to better understand the Chinese position towards climate change," Mr Sacconi said.

The draftsman for the Committee, German Christian Democrat Karl-Heinz Florenz said, "From our discussions with representatives from the National People's Congress, from the government and also from civil society, we understood that climate change is one of the political priorities for the Chinese authorities. I have the impression that the Chinese authorities are adopting and implementing legislation to successfully start the fight against climate change."

The recently-adopted Climate Change Programme is very ambitious with targets to cut energy consumption 20% and increase the share of renewables to 10% of energy supplies by 2010. "Of course the challenge now lies with its implementation, which will have to be closely monitored", Mr Florenz said.

Chinese position towards post-Kyoto climate protection?

"We were happy to learn that for China, like the EU, the UN Climate Change Convention is the only appropriate forum for the international negotiations on climate change. The Chinese authorities also share the EU view that the negotiations for such a new agreement should be concluded by 2009 at the latest, thus avoiding any gap between the current commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and the future international framework", Mr Florenz added.

Stressing the need to build partnerships and involve new world powers like China and India in the fight against climate change, Mr Florenz said: "This is why the EP attaches such importance to environmental foreign policy". Convinced that China will be a close and key partner of the EU in the negotiations for a post-2012 agreement, he added: "It is in our mutual interest to succeed in the fight against climate change".

The visit was the first of a series to non-EU countries meant to develop parliamentary contacts and forge a strong alliance to address climate change issues.

What the EP is doing

Temporary Committee on Climate Change has urged the EU to secure "by 2009 at the latest" an international agreement that includes: binding emissions targets for all industrialised countries, a global "cap and trade" system and instruments for clean technology transfer - to allow developing countries access to environmentally friendly technologies.

MEPs also call on industrialised countries to lead by example and commit themselves to reducing emissions "by at least 30% by 2020 and 60% - 80% by 2050 compared to 1990".


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