When it comes to climate change, all eyes are turning to China.
Beijing now recognises it has become the world’s biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. It has overtaken the United States, though not in terms of emissions per capita.
The figures speak for themselves. In 2005, China produced 5.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. In 2020, spurred by rapid economic growth, the annual figure is likely to have almost doubled.
So China matters when it comes to sealing a deal.
At Copenhagen last year as in Cancun now, the Chinese stressed their support for extending the Kyoto Protocol. Its first phase expires in 2012. It binds about 40 developed countries to meet emissions targets, with the big exception of the US which refused to become a party.
At the summit in the Danish capital, developing nations, including China, agreed to take voluntary steps to curb the growth of their emissions. The Chinese pledge was to reduce its ‘carbon intensity’ – the amount of CO2 emitted for each dollar of economic growth – by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared to 2005.
Much maligned for its growing ecological footprint, China has accused Western critics of hyprocrisy, insisting its people have a right to prosperity. And while it is still reliant on coal for around 70 per cent of its energy needs, China is investing in renewable, clean energy sources.
Chinese efforts have even noted by Greenpeace no less, as its International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo explained in an interview with euronews.
“They have made some important steps which have to be recognised,” he said. “For example, every hour, a wind turbine comes on stream in China right now. In the first quarter of 2010, China exceeded every country in the world in terms of becoming the biggest investor in the renewable energy sector.”
With its concessions in Cancun, China is also keen to show a real commitment to tackling climate change, putting the ball firmly in the court of the other big polluters.