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Chinese leaders going forward with carbon restriction plans

By Steven Mufson

BEIJING -- Three weeks after the Copenhagen conference ended with a lot of fingers pointed at China and no binding accord, Beijing leaders are pushing ahead anyway with plans to restrain carbon emissions and boost energy efficiency.

They have made amendments to renewable energy laws to promote more renewable energy, ordered the State Grid to buy renewable energy, and vowed to close down another 10 gigawatts of inefficient coal-fired power plants in 2010 even though the country has already met the five-year plan target for closing such plants. (The plan expires at the end of this year.)

"The Chinese came back and set about doing exactly what said they would," said Deborah Seligsohn, a Beijing-based climate expert with the World Resources Institute.

Though European climate negotiators were disappointed and angry about China's role at the Copenhagen summit, many China specialists here were not surprised. China had been saying beforehand that it would push ahead with energy efficiency and renewable energy, but it has always opposed a binding cap on emissions because its economy is growing so fast. Chinese officials pledge to use less energy and cough up fewer emissions per unit of output - and some of their initiatives in this area are more ambitious than those in the United States or Europe. But China's gross domestic product is racing ahead and overall emissions will climb for about 20 years.

"They said ahead of time what they wanted to do. And they came in and did that," said Seligsohn. "The gave a little on measurable and verifiable. They moved a bit in the agreement."

But Chinese officials were stung by the criticism they received. Perhaps the harshest piece was this one in the Guardian:

In it, a delegate writes, "The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen."

A more sober analysis came from Ken Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution. Lieberthal was senior director for Asia at the National Security Council under President Clinton.

He wrote, "This conference put China in a position it generally seeks to avoid - as a central, highly visible player on a major global issue. Given China's rapidly growing global importance, it is a position in which Beijing will increasingly find itself."

China's press picked its own commentary. The China Daily printed a piece by a Pakistani official praising Beijing's contributions. The Xinhua news agency highlighted this piece:

"World media reports have praised China's efforts in promoting international cooperation to combat climate change and its contribution to a substantive result at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

"The per capita carbon emission in China is far lower than that in Western countries, the state media from different countries, including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Central Africa Republic and Malawi, said recently."

Meanwhile He Yafei, the Chinese Foreign Ministry official who played a leading role in criticizing the United States during the Copenhagen conference, lost his post as vice minister. Some China watchers saw that as a sign of disapproval from Premier Wen Jiabao, who might have wanted a more conciliatory tone at the summit. But other China watchers say that it's rarely a bad thing in Chinese politics for an official to criticize the United States and they predicted that the 55-year-old He would reemerge in another high post. The ministry reshuffled several people, naming three new vice ministers while also announcing the retirement of another vice minister, Wu Dawei, age 64.


Steven Mufson

 |  January 7, 2010; 11:10 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It was reported in the Wall Street Journal this week that another Chinese dairy company, Shanghai Panda, was found to be diluting its milk with the deadly pesticide melamine. Last year, such product counterfeiting was involved with the poisoning of thousands of infants via their formula. And why then should we believe that when Chinese communist party bureaucrats make promises to the U.N. about carbon intensity, these promises will be kept? This is a country where basic food safety standards are not observed and cheating is a national passtime! This is all propaganda, generated to make China look good and the West look bad, and only the addle-minded will buy it. Read more about China's sorry track record and what global consumers can do about it at

Posted by: JohnRobertsFreeingTibet | January 7, 2010 3:47 PM
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In their usual anti-China stance, the Western nations absurdly blame China for wrecking the Copenhagen conference while knowing very well that their own pollution production based on equal total population or per capita far exceeds that of China. China has been reducing by action (e.g. reducing the birth rate) their pollution production all along while the Western nations are just dragging their feet by just talking and promising, specially the worst polluter USA. USA is forced to attend the conference and just to give an empty promise of pollution reduction as a Western leader; otherwise USA would have been upstaged by China.

Posted by: thmak | January 7, 2010 2:30 PM
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Nobody likes to be told what to do nor feel that they are doing something under compulsion or duress. China is like most countries and most people. It's interesting that a Communist Country would have the "independence" in its struggle to become a mature nation and find its own individuality that it would offer the appearance of one of America's own struggles with its individual citizens who are very tempermental about being told what to do. Perhaps, both the United States and China could learn from each other. But it appears that China given respect as a sovereign nation is following through as a mature nation on its responsible measures that will help its own Country and the world. Welcome to the nations of global interdependence.

Posted by: TabLUnoLCSWfromUtah | January 7, 2010 1:18 PM
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