With leaders of developed and emerging economies unable to agree on emissions targets during a special climate change summit held at a Japanese mountain resort, which capped off the annual Group of Eight (G8) summit, Chinese economists here endorsed the stance of developing countries.
They said it would be "unreasonable" and "unfair" if developing countries had to accept equal responsibility on emissions-reductions targets set by the G8 industrial powers.
COMMON CHALLENGE, DIFFERENT RESPONSIBILITIES
"It can not be denied that developed countries generated more emissions than emerging economies, no matter whether it was in the past or at present," said Gao Huiqing, head of the development strategy section under the forecast department of the State Information Center.
The major factor behind what is described as man-made climate change was the abundant and unchecked greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries over the past 200 years while they enjoyed the fruits of industrialization and high economic growth, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations.
The report had served as the basis for the UN framework on climate change that upholds "the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities" for developing and developed countries to cope with climate change.
Zhang Yansheng, head of the Research Institute of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation under the National Development and Reform Commission, said developed countries should definitely take more responsibility to cut emissions since they still consume more energy than developing countries.
"The per capita energy consumption in the United States is at present roughly 10 times that of China, and that of more energy-conscious Japan still quintuples China's figure," Zhang said.
However, there had been increasing calls from the developed world to put emerging countries under certain obligations to cut emissions as well.
"The focus on developing countries like China came along with the rapid development of these economies in the process of globalization," said Zhuang Jian, a senior economist at the Beijing office of the Asian Development Bank.
But economists all agreed that global warming was a global challenge, and rich and developing countries shared responsibility in addressing the issue, echoing comments by Chinese President Hu Jintao at Toyako, Japan.
"As countries represented at this meeting differ in terms of their stage of development, level of scientific and technological development and national conditions, our endeavor to combat climate change should be guided by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities," Hu said on Wednesday.
The meeting was also attended by leaders from Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, the Republic of Korea and the G8 nations.
Zhang also stressed that rich and developing nations should be treated differently in cutting emissions. "Equal responsibilities are unfair, as it would seem like demanding less from developed countries."
Developing countries, which lag in technology and management, were actually incapable of making the same commitments, he added.
Chinese companies could be easily overwhelmed with tasks to introduce green technologies to protect the environment and save energy, because their profit margins are limited, he said.
"More substantial damage could be done to the environment as some people, forced out of employment in a bad economy, might choose to chop down trees for fuel in extreme cases."
Zhuang said overly strict emissions reduction targets could cost the "right to develop" for emerging economies.
He believed a more rational way for developing countries to contribute to emissions reduction would be to explore more environment-friendly approaches in their industrialization.
EFFORTS MADE BY CHINA
The country has endeavored to do more in recent years.
While defending China's role in emissions reduction, Hu said the government took climate change very seriously with a responsible attitude.
"We have made it a strategic task to build a conservation culture and we adhere to the basic state policy of conserving resources and protecting the environment."
The unusual image of China's top leaders in short-sleeved shirts instead of suits last summer might have caught attention. The government took the initiative to keep the temperature of air-conditioned public facilities at no lower than 26 degrees Celsius in the summer to save energy.
In recent years, China enhanced macroeconomic controls and stepped up its restructuring to make industrial structures, modes of growth and consumption patterns more conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment.
The country launched a program in June to address climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions comprehensively. Under the plan, the first by a developing country, China pledged to restructure its economy, promote clean technologies and improve energy efficiency.
China has set a goal of reducing energy intensity by 20 percent, and cutting total emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent, by 2010.
John Rutledge, an economic advisor during the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, described this as a "responsible plan" in April at the Boao summit in Hainan Province.
In 2007, emissions of sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand in China decreased by 4.66 percent and 3.14 percent, respectively, year-on-year. There was also a 3.27 percent year-on-year drop in energy intensity, equal to saving 89.8 million tons of standard coal.
China's recent move to promote its environmental agency to a full ministry known as the Ministry of Environmental Protection was expected to facilitate environmental protection.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol have set the framework, principles and goals for international cooperation on climate change.
The Protocol reflected differences in economic development, historic responsibilities and per capita emissions among countries.
But world leaders failed to reach an agreement on an arrangement after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol's obligations expire.
The G8 nations -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- proposed during the currentG8 summit to cut greenhouse gases by at least 50 percent by 2050, and urged developing countries to abide as well.
But developing economies led by China and India declined to accept the targets. They were concerned that emissions cuts would suppress energy-fueled economic growth.
Hu said China was still developing through industrialization and modernization, and the central task was to develop the economy and raise living standards.
He also pointed out that China's per capita emissions are relatively low, and even lower if calculated in cumulative terms. The country faces mounting pressure from international transferred emissions as a result of changes in the international division of labor and the relocation of manufacturing.
He insisted that wealthy nations must take the lead in reducing emissions and providing clean technology transfer and financing to support developing nations' efforts to control emissions and adapt to rising temperatures.