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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2007, 22:22 GMT 23:22 UK
China building more power plants
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

Power station in China
China is building two large power stations every week
China is now building about two power stations every week, the top climate change official at the UK Foreign Office, John Ashton, has said.

He said there was no point blaming China for rising global CO2 emissions.

Rich nations had to set an example of low-carbon development for China to follow, Mr Ashton told the BBC.

His statement came as a new report suggested that China may have already become the world's biggest polluter - much earlier than expected.

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said China's CO2 emissions had risen by 9% last year, compared with 1.4% in the US.

Carbon footprint

"It is a massive challenge," Mr Ashton told the BBC following a recent trip to China.

"We need to convince China that they don't have to make a choice between prosperity and protecting the climate. We need to help them towards a low-carbon future.

"There is also a moral case. Most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been put there by developed countries without the constraint of having to worry about the climate. That means we should bear the leading edge of responsibility.

Mr Ashton added that the Chinese had put out their first climate strategy, in an effort "to get to grips with their emissions and use energy efficiently".

He pointed out that much of China's emissions growth was being driven by consumers in the West buying Chinese goods, and noted that China's emissions per person were still well below those of rich nations.

Wind turbines

It is estimated that the average American still pollutes between five and six times more than the average Chinese person.

Climate sceptics in the UK have been asking why Britons should switch off lights, turn down central heating and avoid foreign flights in order to save carbon when the Chinese are increasing emissions at their current rate.

"Responsibility for China's soaring emissions lies not just in Beijing but also in Washington, Brussels and Tokyo," said Greenpeace UK director John Sauven.

"All we've done is export a great slice of the West's carbon footprint to China, and today we see the result.

"Let us not forget that the average Chinese emits just 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per year, whereas Britons emit nearly 10 tonnes and Americans 20 tonnes.

"The West moved its manufacturing base to China knowing it was vastly more polluting than Japan, Europe or the US," he added.

"No environmental conditions were attached to this move; in fact the only thing manufacturers were interested in was the price of labour.

"This trend kept the price of our products down but at the cost of soaring greenhouse gas emissions. Long term, this policy has been a climate disaster.

"We should export clean energy technology to China to increase low carbon and renewable energy take-up so the products we import have a smaller carbon footprint."

Analysis of China's impact on global warming

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