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UPDATED: December 7, 2009 NO. 49 DECEMBER 10, 2009
Committed to Carbon Reduction
Chinese efforts to lower carbon emissions through environmentally friendly means begin gaining momentum

LIGHTING UP: Yingbin Avenue in Dazu County, Chongqing Municipality, uses solar-powered streetlamps that absorb sufficient energy during the day to keep the lights lit throughout the night (CHEN SHICHUAN) 

Since the late 1980s, the Chinese Government has prioritized reducing energy and resource consumption, promoting green production and preventing industrial pollution as an integral part of its industrial policies. In 2007, the Chinese Government implemented China's National Climate Change Program in tandem with the General Work Plan for Energy Conservation and Pollutant Discharge Reduction issued by the NDRC.

In August, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress passed a resolution, bringing the issue of coping with climate change into legislation as it is now considered a long-term task in the way to achieving sustainable development.

Although China has made headway in terms of reducing emissions and conserving energy, daunting challenges remain—the emission reduction target has proven difficult to achieve since China is still in the phase of industrial and urban development. Compared to the industrialization and urbanization in other countries, China's need for and consumption of energy will only increase with time.

Faced with this difficult environmental situation, science and technology will need to play an even greater role in China's efforts to tackle climate change, Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology, said at a high-level forum on carbon reduction on November 12.

Wan said that the Chinese Government has made detailed plans guiding energy conservation and emission reduction by using science and technology and that relevant departments have started working out special plans to apply innovations in the two fields to manage climate change from 2011 to 2015.

"Those plans will set short-term and mid-term goals in coping with climate change. They will guide the science and technology work for each department, locality and institution to enhance their ability to best address the climate change dilemma," said Wan.

Wan also vowed to invest more in technological innovations, especially in core technology that will help upgrade the industrial structure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More investments will also be earmarked for energy saving research and development, clean coal technology and nuclear power.

To achieve the emissions reduction goal, some large enterprises have already embarked on equipment upgrades and technological renovation.

The NDRC has already forced tens of thousands of high energy consuming and high-polluting steel mills, cement works, small power plants and coalmines to close. The worth of the combined assets of those small workshops was estimated to exceed tens of billions of yuan, and hundreds of thousands of workers were laid off.

The efforts to tackle both the financial crisis and climate change have in effect brought the opportunity for China to adjust its industrial structure, modify its development mode and improve the livelihoods of its citizens, Xie said.

"We should spur the development of energy conservation and environment protection industries, foster new strategic industries and develop a low-carbon economy," said Xie.

No exaggeration of China's responsibility

China has clung to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" when it comes to international cooperation concerning climate change, a principle recognized by the international community and stated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yu Qingtai, special representative for climate change negotiations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a media briefing on November 25.

According to scientific research, the issue of climate change today is the result of carbon dioxide emissions from developed countries in the process of their industrialization over the past 100 to 200 years—more than 80 percent in the atmosphere today originated from developed countries. In effect, developing countries are victims, Yu said.

"Therefore, concerning international cooperation on climate change, we must make clear two points of view: first, climate change is a common challenge and needs to be handled jointly; and second, the contributions of various countries should be differentiated because of their varied historical responsibility and national capacity," Yu said.

Even though China is currently the second largest energy-producing and consuming country, it is neither fair nor pragmatic to expect China to shoulder greater reduction responsibility equal to that of a developed country, said Xiong.

China, as the largest developing country in the world, remains at an important stage of industrialization and urbanization, with many people still living in sheer poverty. The first and foremost task for the Chinese Government and the Chinese people is to develop China's economy and eliminate poverty.

To illustrate his point, Xiong compared the international community to a large family. Developed countries, like the European Union and the United States, represent senior citizens with a high level of economy and social formation. They have advanced technology and have less energy consumption.

China, on the other hand, is a 20-something-year-old—the strong laborer of the family—doing most of the work but remaining relatively poor in wealth. Unable to afford healthier or substantive food options, it must resort to coarse consumption that is not necessarily good for its well-being. This is the problem facing China, as its economy is fueled by coal, the ultimate culprit of carbon emission, making it more difficult to cut emissions. If the international community requires developing countries to shoulder reduction responsibilities, developed countries must provide support to help the industrializing countries improve their "dining structure" and upgrade technology, Xiong said.

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