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"Common but Differentiated Responsibilities"

2010-09-30

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), it is the developed countries who contributes most to historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gas, while per capita emission in developing countries remains relatively low.

An energy consumption and CO2 emission report by British risk analysis company Maplecroft shows at the end of 2009 shows that the annual per capita CO2 output of America and Australia stand at 19.58 tons and 20.58 tons respectively, while that of China is around 4.6 tons, less than a quarter of the number of America and Australia. In terms of accumulated emission, Britain and America’s per capita level is around 1100 tons, nearly 20 times that of China’s 66 tons.

UNFCCC calls for the signatory parties to fulfill “common but differentiated responsibilities” in order to address the issue of Climate change and that the developed countries shall take the lead in action. Meanwhile, The Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations also set the target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than US$1 a day. As developing countries’ major task still remains as economic and social development and poverty reduction, their emission reduction capacity will by large depend on how the developed countries delivering their commitments to financial support and transfer of know-how. As a major developing country and CO2 emmiter, China is willing to take “common but differentiated responsibilities” and work together with all countries to address the challenge of Climate Change.

With the global climate change and China’s accelerating urbanization and industrialization, China is faced with mounting pressure in terms of resources, environment and ecology. We now see more frequent extreme weather conditions, greater loss caused by natural disaster, increased post-disaster chain-effects and concurrent disasters. These have impacted significantly on the life and safety of Chinese people as well as the social and economic development of China. Being a populous and not-yet-prosperous country, China is relatively vulnerable to Climate Change and has limited ways and means to meet its severe challenge.

The Chinese Government attaches great importance to this issue. China sees it as a responsibility for the long-term development of human-being, and makes battling Climate Change as a national strategy which has been integrated into the national plan for economic and social development. Since1992, China has made significant contribution to mitigating global climate change by increasing energy efficiency, developing clean energy, afforestation, managing population growth and participating in international cooperation.

From 1991 to 2005, China achieved average annual GDP growth of 10.2 percent with only 5.6% annual increase in energy consumption. By 2009, renewable energy has taken up nearly 10% of China’s overall energy consumption. China has, installed 172GW (1GW=1 million kilowatt)hydropower generators, 130 million square meters solar heat collecting panels and has accumulatively generated around 150 MW photovoltaic solar power, which all rank the first in the world. China has also installed 12.17GW wind power generators, which ranks the 4th globally. Over 30 million rural households in China are using bio-gas.

China has the world’s largest man-planted forests. China now has 195.45 million hectares. Its forest coverage rates rose from 13.92% in early 1990s to 20.36% in 2008. China’s overall emission of SO2 in 2010 is estimated to decrease by nearly 20% from the level of 2005. From 2006 to 2009, China closed 49.2 GW small thermal power units and 70.59 million tons of iron smelting capacity based on outdated technologies, 49.47 million tons steel smelting capacity and 190 million tons cement production capacity.

In order to build an eco-friendly society, China is also speeding up its economic restructuring and industrial upgrading and will abandon outdated production capacity with high energy consumption and high pollution. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has published a list of 2087 factories in 18 lagging industries that are going to be closed by the end of September 2010. Such policy moves are unprecedented.

In the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, the Chinese Government made a solemn commitment to the international community that China will reduce CO2 emissions per unit GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 based on the 2005 level. This is a voluntary action taken by the Chinese Government based on our own national realities with no attached conditions. It fully demonstrates that the Chinese Government and people are fulfilling their obligations and responsibilities in energy conservation and emission reduction with concrete action. Although there will be huge sacrifice and difficulties ahead to achieve this goal, China will make every effort for this goal unswervingly.

Carbon emission has a climate impact and originates from the livelihood and development of human-being. Yet, essentially, human life and development should stand at the core of the discussion. As long as a human-being is alive, he or she will breathe and consume, which creates CO2 emission. Under average productivity, a country’s emission volume is proportionate to its level of development and the living standard of its people. Imposing an unrealistic emission reduction requirement on a developing country will jeopardize the country’s right to development and its people’s hope for a better life. Therefore, in order to assess a country’s emission status objectively and scientifically, we need to take into account the development stage a country is at. We should not only look at its current status but also its historic record; not only the total volume, but also the per capita level. To impose China onto the same responsibilities with developed countries on emission reduction is beyond China’s capability and will create an obvious unfairness.

On the other hand, given that almost all CO2 emission originates from human consumption, it would be unfair to calculate emission merely by any single country in this era of economic globalization.

Ken Caldeira and Steven Davis, two American scholars with the Department of Global Ecology of Carnegie Institution, found in a research that when European countries are consuming goods and services, at least one third of the consequential carbon emission are happening elsewhere.

"Just like the electricity that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of Western Europe, Japan and the United States cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China," Davis said. He also stressed that nearly a quarter of the emissions produced in China result from consumptions in other countries.

It is just like some of us choose to eat in restaurants instead of cooking at home. Can we therefore blame the owner of the restaurant for all the CO2 emission produced? Of course not. It is obvious that we can not force the restaurant to cut on its emission. Because even if the restaurants were closed, customers still need to cook at home, which would have produced the same amount of CO2 as the restaurants did, if not more.

It is the natural obligation of the industrialized countries to assist the industrializing ones with funds and technologies to reduce emission. But the practice of imposing emission taxes on developing countries is nothing better than exploiting the poor to satisfy the luxurious life of the rich.

Climate change is a challenge faced by the whole humanity. All residents of this Global Village should cooperate with real earnest, and taking into account both the past and present reality, rather than shirking responsibilities. The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was based on the different historical records of carbon emission by different countries. It also reflects the fact that countries differ in their capabilities to cope with climate change. Therefore, this principle should continue to be treated as the foundation of global cooperation and be adopted by any global solution addressing the issue of Climate Change.

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