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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Paradox of China's emissions
By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment analyst

Dryer ball packaging (BBC)
Where to count emissions: With end-user or producer?

Down a zig-zag alleyway at Red Temple Village in central China, a rotting wooden gate with snapped hinges leads to the courtyard of Zhu Gui Li.

Mr Zhu, who is 80, shares his crumbling home with his bed-ridden wife.

Almost everything here needs mending. Zhu's clothes are torn. The handle of his ancient handpump drops off as he draws up water. A worn wooden stool tilts at a crazy angle. The earthen floor of the house undulates from decades of wear. The earthen render of the walls is falling off.

When we arrive, Mr Zhu is cooking dinner for his wife on a fire in the ramshackle woodshed.

It is fuelled by dried sweet corn cobs - not fossil fuels. The home has just two light bulbs and an old TV powered by China's subsidised electricity.

Mr Zhu's life produces hardly any greenhouse gases. If everyone on the planet lived like him, it would not be a lot of fun but we would not be talking about climate change.

Mr Zhu's life puts into perspective the fashion of blaming China for global heating - because there are hundreds of millions like him in this staggeringly vast nation.

New reality

An estimated 200 million are unemployed or under-employed. Seven hundred million are thought to live on less than $2 a day.

Zhu Gui Li (BBC)
By Western standards, Zhu Gui Li's carbon footprint is small
China's government is straining both to boost living standards in rural areas and to create jobs for those who continue to flood in from the land to the towns.

This is China's political reality.

It helps to explain why Chinese representatives in international conferences are so keen to avoid internationally agreed strictures being placed on their economy in the name of climate change, and so keen to ensure that at least 75% of the blame for the accumulated emissions in the atmosphere is pinned on the rich nations who industrialised first.

The Chinese also point out the absurdity of the West blaming China for manufacturing goods that are made in China but bought by Western consumers.

Take the case of Gui Yan. Now in her twenties, she was brought to Shenzhen City when she was just a few years old by her mother and her father - who used to be a wood-cutter.

Greater efficiency

Gui Yan shares their one-room apartment and aspires to earn enough to get her parents a home of their own.

She works on the production line of a factory making "dryer balls", small spheres which when added to a tumble dryer are said to reduce drying time and soften the clothes.

Wu River  (BBC)

It is a great job, she says. She has earned a mobile phone and a moped - they are incredibly cheap in China. But she does not earn enough to get out of that one-room flat.

Her emissions are low by rich world standards. The average Chinese produces around a sixth as much CO2 as the average American.

But who gets the blame for the emissions from the manufacture of these balls for export? Well, China of course.

There is indeed plenty to criticise about China's ruthless treatment of the environment, and its leaders are now trying to improve the country's inefficient use of energy.

But in the absence of a methodology in which the blame for carbon emissions is taken by the end-user rather than the producer, it will be hard for manufacturing countries like China to feel that they are being treated fairly by the world.




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