China Calls on the U.S. to Join Kyoto Protocol

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A Chinese official urged the U.S. government to join the Kyoto Protocol and cut its emissions of carbon dioxide in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday. China is the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and its new assertiveness on the issue leaves the United States, the world’s largest emitter, even more isolated.

Sun Guoshun, director of the Department of Treaty and Law at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the remark at the first meeting of the 140 countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, which are meeting this week in Montreal.

The pact, signed in 1997 and which went into effect this past February, targets carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases blamed for rising global temperatures and disrupted weather patterns. It requires 35 industrial nations to cut emissions to 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. China, which has signed the Kyoto Protocol, but is not covered by its limits, has indicated growing concern about the potential impacts of climate change in recent years.

The Bush Administration has refused to join the pact, saying that it is flawed because it fails to hold developing nations such as China and India to the same mandatory greenhouse gas emissions caps as the industrial nations. Sun rejected this criticism, saying that it is unfair to expect impoverished people in those developing countries to cut back on energy consumption, which is not even sufficient to meet their basic living conditions.

China, which currently ranks second in the world’s CO2 emissions, is projected to pass the United States sometime between 2025 and 2030 as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. In an article titled “The Great Leap” in the December 2005 issue of Harper’s, Bill McKibben argues that it makes more sense to divide the atmosphere by people, not by nation.

China's current annual production of carbon dioxide was 2.6 tons per 1,000 people, while the average was 19 tons in the United States. Even when China passes the United States as the largest carbon emitter, the average Chinese person will still be producing only a quarter as much carbon as the average American, according to McKibben.

Sun also said in the interview that China's GDP had risen fourfold from 1980 to 2000, while its energy consumption only doubled, showing the efforts by the Chinese government to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. He also noted that China has pledged to raise its energy efficiency by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010.

As the negotiators in Montreal begin to discuss the next round of greenhouse gas limits—beyond the 2012 targets in the Kyoto Protocol—finding a way to include China is considered crucial. “China and the United States are the two countries that are most important to worldwide efforts to slow climate change,” said Chris Flavin, the president of Worldwatch. “Without their participation, the next round of emissions limits will hardly be meaningful.”