In China it’s environment vs. economic growth, and guess who’s winning…

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With China slated to pass the United States to become the world’s number one producer of greenhouse gasses by 2010, the Chinese leadership in Beijing has made moves to curb emissions and institute more stringent environmental policies. But the balance between protecting the environment and maintaining the break-away growth has not been easy to achieve and more often than not, it is the environmental side which has been the secondary concern.

The amount of news stories and media reports on China’s polluted cities are so numerous to have become cliche. One needs only to travel to the second tier industrial cities of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province or Linfen in Shanxi province to see (just barely) the results of what the last 25 years of development have brought.

On Monday, China released its first comprehensive strategy for addressing climate change. The plan calls for improving energy efficiency and controlling greenhouse gas emissions but doesn’t commit the country to “quantified emissions-reduction targets.”

“Our general stance is that China will not commit to any quantified emissions reduction targets, but that does not mean we will not assume responsibilities in responding to climate change,” said Ma Kai, head of China’s powerful economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission as reported by the International Herald Tribune. The Financial Times of London reported that Ma said developed countries had an “unshirkable responsibility” to take a lead.

More from the IHT:

Ma used his news conference to restate China’s longstanding position that the developed world, particularly the United States, needed to be the leader on finding a climate change solution because those countries had generated the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. He said China, historically, had produced only a small fraction of the world’s greenhouse gases and that its current per capita emissions equaled roughly one-fifth the rate of the United States.

It remains to be seen how long it will take before China moves to actively reign-in their heavy polluters regardless of any economic  downturn that may result. That will take a major shift in political thinking, one that Ma Kai and the rest of the central government are unwilling to make currently, with glaciers melting in Tibet, increased desertification in the West, and rising sea levels, that change may come sooner than Beijing thinks.