China has expressed its solidarity with Africa as a “victim” of climate change and called on the west to join Beijing in helping the world’s poorest continent adapt to the consequences of more extreme weather.
Speaking at a China-Africa summit in Egypt on Monday, Chen Deming, China’s minister of commerce, said: “China as well as African countries are victims of global warming but we are not the culprits or the cause of global warming today.”
Ahead of December’s Copenhagen climate conference, Beijing is asking western countries to provide China with technology to help it control its greenhouse gas emissions.
But Mr Chen called on the west to join China in helping Africa to limit its own emissions – a tiny proportion of the global total – and to adapt to the impact of climate change, which is threatening to increase food shortages, disease and displace millions of people from their homes.
“As a developing country, China actually puts environmental protection and energy conservation on top of the agenda when it comes to its assistance to Africa,” Mr Chen said. “These efforts include the provision of solar power equipment … as well as biogas and micro-hydro facilities.”
Africa is acknowledged by many climate experts as the continent most vulnerable to climate change, least responsible for causing it, and least able to afford the costs of managing it.
In a speech to the summit on Sunday, Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, pledged $10bn in new low-cost loans to Africa over the next three years and defended China's engagement against accusations it is “plundering” the continent’s oil and minerals.
Mr Wen announced climate change measures as the first of eight new policies that will frame China’s engagement with Africa in the next three years.
“We will … enhance co-operation on satellite weather monitoring, development and utilisation of new energy sources, prevention and control of desertification, and urban environmental protection,” he said.
Coping with climate change was one of the main themes of the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort town, alongside the development of African agriculture and infrastructure.
In the context of the global economic slump, Chinese and African leaders signed a final summit declaration that said: “Effective measures should be implemented by the developed countries in order to fulfil their commitments on aid, debt relief, promoting and increasing investment, opening up and accessing markets, and assisting developing countries to promote economic growth.”
As part of his defence of China’s strategy in Africa on Sunday, Mr Wen pointed out that western countries also relied on African natural resources and that China’s financial assistance to Africa continued to rise even as western commitments had been thrown into doubt by the global downturn.
Last month China and India signed an agreement to co-ordinate climate-change efforts, which will help them to take a united stance in Copenhagen.
Both governments feel strongly that the onus of dealing with global warming lies with the rich world, but China has been happy for India to strike a more belligerent tone in climate talks.