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by Antoaneta Bezlova

Air Pollution Chokes Beijing

(IPS) BEIJING -- As global concern about climate change and rising carbon dioxide emissions grows, China -- the developing world's biggest polluter -- is sending confusing signals about its willingness to clean up energy production and tackle environmental pollution.

China, which accounts for 12 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, was among 141 countries that had ratified the UN Kyoto Protocol on global warming when it took effect in February last year. The move enabled Beijing to paint itself as a defender of the environment while condemning the United States, which has withdrawn from the treaty, as "irresponsible."

Since February last year, though, China has also joined an alternative forum to the Kyoto Protocol -- the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The forum, nicknamed the Coal Pact, groups the world's six leading greenhouse-gas (GHG) emitting nations -- the U.S., Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

Rather than committing countries to firm targets for cutting GHG emissions like the Kyoto Protocol, the "coal pact" promotes technologies that reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in coal. Environmentalists have lambasted the forum as an attempt to divert attention from the refusal of the U.S. and Australian governments to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

China, however, has signed both pacts -- a stance of ambiguity reflecting its conflicting interests of meeting its fast-growing economy's voracious energy demands and placating worldwide concern about global warming. Last week, it also attended the first conference of the Asia-Pacific Partnership, presided over by Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Sydney.

Officially, Beijing has manifested polite but restrained support for the new climate change coalition. The Sydney meeting got little attention in the state-run media, unlike the Montreal meeting in December when Kyoto signatories negotiated the extension and strengthening of the landmark 1997 UN agreement.

"Although the Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development and climate is a good step on the long road to fighting global warming, it provides no concrete and effective measures on cutting greenhouse emissions as yet," says Zhang Jianyu, a researcher with Beijing's Tsinghua University.

Yet, despite throwing its weight behind the Kyoto treaty, Beijing sees few short-term solutions to satisfying growing energy demand beyond bringing new coal-fired power plants on line. China is planning 562 new coal-fired power stations -- nearly half the world total of plants expected to come online before 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends.

Such is the scope of the power plant expansion that China's increases in GHG emissions in coming years may well dwarf the 5 percent cuts in emissions required under Kyoto during the period 2008-2012.

Emissions of carbon dioxide from China are increasing faster than from any other country in the world. In 1990, China accounted for some 10.5 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions. That figure rose to 12.7 percent in 2001 and is now second only to the U.S., whose 25 percent share China is likely to match within a few decades.

China is the world's biggest coal producer, and oil consumption has doubled during the past two decades of rapid industrialization. This is one of the reasons why Beijing sees the coal pact as a useful forum for acquiring technologies that enable the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants.

During the Jan. 11-12 Sydney meeting, Australian Electric Power President Michael Morris claimed that if all countries adopted clean fossil fuel-burning technology advocated by the delegates of the Asia-Pacific Clean Development and Climate Partnership, emissions would be reduced by three times the level envisaged under the Kyoto Protocol.

Yet, by signing and ratifying the UN Kyoto Protocol, China stands to gain more than just accolades for its symbolic lead in the fight against global warming. The international mechanisms under the Kyoto treaty could give China much of the environmental investment it needs for free.

Since it is a developing nation, China would be exempted from reducing its own carbon dioxide output under the protocol. Under the terms of the treaty, only industrialized nations, which are mainly responsible for the present high levels of gases in the atmosphere, must reduce their emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

But as the developing world's biggest polluter, China stands to benefit substantially from the treaty because it provides for a clean defense mechanism (CDM) that allows polluters in one country to earn credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in another.

While the CDM market is still relatively small, it has more than doubled since 2001. The United Nations CDM Executive Board has already approved some 25 CDM projects from China.

Chinese energy officials estimate that CDM projects would have brought $250 million in additional foreign investment in 2005. That figure is expected to double in 2010, according to the China Environment News.

"In 2006, we will submit between 200 and 300 CDM projects for approval," Lu Xuedu, a senior official with the ministry of science and technology, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecast an even more optimistic potential for CDM trades in China. The IEA expects China to account for 40 percent of an annual market of 250 million tons of carbon dioxide traded in 2010. That would translate to environmental projects in China worth more than $1 billion a year.

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Albion Monitor   January 26, 2006   (

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