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Q+A-Why is China crucial in the fight against climate change?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 17 Nov 2010 06:55 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Following is the fifth in a series of Q+As on major climate change themes.

By Gerard Wynn

Nov 17 (Reuters) - China's rapid economic growth is steering the world out of financial crisis but also pumping greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, undermining global efforts to avoid dangerous climate change. [ID:nLDE68L23Z]

WHAT ARE CHINA'S CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2) EMISSIONS?

China's CO2 emissions in 2009 from burning fossil fuels were 7.5 billion tonnes, or 24 percent of the global total, according to the energy company BP <BP.L>.

WHERE DOES CHINA RANK IN GLOBAL CARBON EMITTERS

China is the world's biggest carbon emitter, and is rapidly extending its lead because its emissions are growing much faster than number two emitter, the United States.

China's emissions from fossil fuels overtook those of the United States in 2008, according to BP data.

HOW FAST ARE ITS EMISSIONS GROWING?

China's emissions grew about 9 percent last year, in line with its economic output.

That contrasts with number two the United States, whose emissions fell about 7 percent in the wake of the financial crisis.

DO CHINA'S CO2 EMISSIONS THREATEN THE WORLD'S CLIMATE?

The International Energy Agency, energy adviser to developed countries, last year proposed 2020 emissions limits for various countries compatible with the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees, a common benchmark for dangerous climate change.

It suggested a China goal of 8.4 billion tonnes. At its current rate of increase China will pass that level in 2011 with another decade of likely rises ahead.

Carbon emissions from India, which says it is now the world's no.3 emitter, are also expected to keep growing from 1.8 tonnes per capita now (versus more than 5 tonnes per-capita for China) to 3.6 tonnes by 2030, the Indian government says.

But India says greater investments in renewable and nuclear energy will curb the growth in emissions. [ID:nSGE6940EP]

WHAT DOES CHINA SAY ABOUT ITS GROWING CARBON EMISSIONS

China has resisted an absolute cap on its greenhouse gas emissions, like those developed countries are expected to implement. It says a cap would be unfair because it contributed less to the problem historically, its emissions per-capita are still relatively low and it needs leeway to grow its economy.

WHAT DOES THE REST OF THE WORLD SAY?

Britain's energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, said in September:

"(China has) just announced an increase in carbon emissions which is the same scale as the entire carbon emissions of the United Kingdom. All the carbon emissions reductions throughout the world are effectively cancelled out by China's increase. I'm sure it will be resolved in the right direction, and for the sake of our collective interests I hope very quickly."

WHAT IS CHINA DOING TO CONTAIN ITS EMISSIONS

China's focus is on reducing "carbon intensity" -- the amount of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), emitted for each dollar of economic activity. It plans to reduce this by 40-45 percent by 2020 compared to 2005.

It also wants to raise the proportion of non-fossil fuels in total primary energy use to 15 percent by 2020 from less than 9 percent in 2009. [ID:nTOE6A003C] [ID:nTOE69H066]

China's new five-year plan and a follow-up one for 2016-2020 will detail how to reach the intensity goal and shift to low-carbon growth. But it is struggling to meet an existing target to cut energy intensity by 20 percent from 2005-10.

WHAT DO EXPERTS SAY?

British economist Nicholas Stern said in November that in its next five-year plan China would have to repeat the ambition of its last energy intensity target and add a 10 percent reduction in emissions per unit of energy.

"This is a stronger level of ambition than currently envisaged but would be necessary to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees," he said.

The International Energy Agency said in November that China would lead the world in deploying renewable energy technologies by 2035. [ID:nLDE6A81BN] (Editing by Ed Lane)

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