China puts growth ahead of climate

China will put climate change at the heart of its economic and energy policies but without committing itself to “quantified emissions-reduction targets”, according to Beijing’s first comprehensive policy document on the issue.

Ma Kai, chairman of China’s chief economic planning agency, also offered Beijing’s first response to George W. Bush’s new climate-change policy, saying the US president’s proposal contained many “positive features”. But he said any new accords should build on the Kyoto protocol, the main United Nations treaty, not replace it.

Unveiling China’s fullest response yet to climate change, Mr Ma said developed countries had an “unshirkable responsibility” to take a lead. He also robustly defended China’s position as the country that will soon be the world’s biggest carbon emitter, offering the familiar line that China needed to continue its development before adopting mandatory emissions cuts.

Mr Ma also argued that countries importing energy-intensive Chinese exports should assume some responsibility for the emissions their manufacture generated. “China exported 24m tonnes of steel and 14m tonnes of coke in 2006, but they were not counted as emissions in the importing countries,” he said. This suggests emissions from low-cost contract manufacturing for multinationals should not be counted as Beijing’s alone.

Mr Ma also called for greater technology transfer from wealthy nations, as envisaged under previous UN agreements. “We have heard a lot of thunder but we have yet to see the rain,” he said.

Mr Ma said gross annual emissions should not be used to allocate responsibility for climatic effects. Stage of development, contribution to cumulative greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and per capita emissions were better benchmarks.

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