China to take 'bold' emissions step
UN says Hu Jintao expected to announce significant cuts at climate summit.
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2009 05:33 GMT
The world's biggest emitter has often been criticised for doing little to combat climate change [Reuters]

China is set to become a global leader in tackling climate change, according to the UN climate chief.

Yvo De Boer's comments come ahead of the UN climate summit in New York, where Hu Jintao, China's president, is expected on Tuesday to announce significant carbon emissions cuts in the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

De Boer told the Associated Press news agency that China's plans for more energy efficiency, renewable sources of power, cuts in vehicle pollution and closures of dirty plants were "so ambitious that it could well become the frontrunner in the fight to address climate change".

And he said the measures could put pressure on other countries such as the US to follow suit.

'Bold and audacious'

Victor Gao, the director of the China National Association of International Studies and an adviser to the Chinese government, told Al Jazeera that China would "take bold and audacious strides in the right direction" towards "a new paradigm - the green development model".

"More and more people have come to the conclusion that it is economically beneficial to have a green economy"

Victor Gao, adviser to Chinese government

Gao acknowledge that "the task of pushing down these policies to the grass roots and local level is a big challenge", given China's size, saying a mindset change would be key.

"I think there used to be a situation that many people thought that green development was a cost and there are no economic benefits, but now, more and more people have come to the conclusion that it is economically beneficial to have a green economy.

"Once there is a mind change in China, more and more people, and more and more support and capital, will go in the direction of supporting green development."

Experts say Hu may lay down a "carbon intensity" target for his country at the summit - where about 100 world leaders are expected to gather - to show Beijing's commitment to fighting climate change.

According to reports from Beijing, Hu intends to be fairly specific, offering at least one numerical target in laying out Chinese climate change policy.

Zhang Haibin, a professor of environmental politics at Peking University and an adviser to the government, said China wants "to give the world a strong, clear signal, especially ahead of the Copenhagen summit, that we are sincere and committed".

"This would demonstrate to the world that China has a very strong political will to continue cutting emissions."

Beijing has declined to give further details, but analysts, academics and campaigners say a carbon intensity goal would be in line with domestic policies and with a government commitment to keep economic development as its top priority while it tackles major issues such as climate change.

"We understand that President Hu will lay out a carbon intensity goal," said Yang Ailun, climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace in China.

"It is technically impossible and unfair to get developing countries to agree to binding caps but at the same time we need a sign they are taking action to avoid business as usual and in this sense carbon intensity could be a good compromise."

While short of an absolute cap on output, a pledge from Beijing to cut the amount of greenhouse gasses produced for each dollar of national income would counter criticism that it is taking too little action.

Pressure on US

It could also put pressure on other major emitters to kickstart stalled talks on a new framework to tackle global warming and give the Chinese negotiating team a strong position going into key talks in Copenhagen this December.

Hu is to unveil 'bold and audacious strides', an adviser says [GALLO/GETTY]
George Bush, the former US president, cited inaction by developing countries such as China for not signing up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for cutting global emissions of greenhouse gases.

While Todd Stern, the top US climate envoy, said the administration of Barack Obama, Bush's successor, was moving "full speed ahead" towards helping craft a new deal in Copenhagen, de Boer said the US was "the big question mark".

De Boer acknowledged that "this is not the best time to go to the [US] senate with something that costs money"

"I think you need to be realistic about what that deal can encompass because time is running out," de Boer said.

"But I have at the same time the feeling that the spotlight is focused on climate change in a way that has never happened before. So we've got the politicians in the headlamps and let's make sure that they deliver," he added.

With China's expected announcement on Tuesday and the US congress moving slowly on a measure to curb emissions, the US could soon find itself with little influence when representatives from 120 countries convene in Copenhagen.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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