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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 09:14 GMT
Mighty China v humble China
By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

Coal power station belching out smoke in Beijing
China will soon become the world's largest consumer of energy
When you think of China, what kind of country do you picture - "mighty China" or "humble China"?

Your answer may tell you which side of the debate you are on when it comes to China and climate change.

Mighty China is the trainee superpower whose economy is growing at 10% a year, and has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

It has nuclear weapons, has just sent a rocket into lunar orbit, has one-trillion US dollars in reserves and is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Humble China is the poor developing nation which has tens of millions of people in poverty.

Its barefoot farmers still cart oxen across fields, its GDP per capita is $2,000 (putting it between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Samoa) and its per capita greenhouse gas emissions are one-fifth of those in the USA.

Bridging the divide

The West tends to picture mighty China. It believes this kind of China can afford to get serious about reducing - or even capping - its greenhouse emissions.

After all, if China can fire a rocket to take pictures of the moon, it can also find the money to clean up its old-fashioned coal-fired power stations.

But China sees itself as humble China - a country which does not have to cap its emissions since its people are responsible for far fewer greenhouse gases per head than Westerners.

Humble China argues passionately that Chinese people have the moral right to live like everyone in the West - since all men are born equal.

Humble China also believes that the West is to blame for climate change - since Western industrial revolutions made the world a hotter place.

Since the West is to blame, humble China argues that the West should pay for the clean-up.

The ruling Communist Party (the leading humble China adherent) believes that the West has to take the lead in helping developing countries with financial aid and technology transfer.

But it also insists that China is taking action on its own - the country's climate change plan announced in June set a target of improving energy efficiency by 20% by 2010.

It has also promised to raise the amount of renewable energy it uses, and to make "significant achievements" in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. But it will not set a target or a cap.

Negotiators in Bali have to find a way of bridging the divide between mighty China and humble China.

Here is a point they will have to consider: China insists its people have the absolute right to live as Westerners do. But if the country exercises this right without changing the way it develops, global warming will get much worse.

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