Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 17:22 UK

China's climate policy shift

Chinese President Hu Jintao has addressed the UN climate change meeting in New York. BBC China Editor Shirong Chen looks at how Beijing's policy on the issue is evolving.

Windmills at Da Bancheng Wind Farm, south of Urumqi city, Xinjiang, China
The country has a new focus on clean energy sources

The much-anticipated speech by the Chinese president marks a big step in China's fight against climate change.

President Hu Jintao reiterated China's stance that industrialised countries should shoulder more of the burden to cut carbon emissions, based on the UN principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", and all countries should meet the challenge through common development, preserving China's rapid growth to raise living standards for its 1.3 billion people.

However, Mr Hu promised his country would share its responsibility in accordance with the current stage of its economic development, and vowed to take actions within its capabilities.

He said: "We will endeavour to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level."

The modest target - not to cap its overall emissions but to limit energy consumption and carbon intensity as the economy grows - will be included in the next five-year plan, running from 2011 to 2016.

At the same time, the world's third largest economy will have 15% of its energy from hydro, wind and solar power by 2020. By comparison, the target the European Union has set itself is 20%.

The change is partly a reaction to international criticism as China becomes the world's biggest polluter.

The country's rapid economic growth has created demand for more energy and a deep concern for its energy security.

There is a growing need for Beijing to provide clear answers on what is being done to deal with the problem.

President Hu Jintao speaking to the United Nations
President Hu pledged to cut carbon emissions

Image-conscious Chinese officials want to be seen as co-operative internationally and accept that China must become part of the solution to major global issues such as the financial crisis and climate change.

The open pledge by the Chinese president could put pressure on the United States, the other big emitter of greenhouse gases, in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference in December.

They have also realised that by embracing green technology and gearing for a low-carbon economy, the country is more likely to achieve sustainable development in the long run.

But there are many challenges ahead.

China's GDP per head is still very low, ranked 100th behind Angola and Kiribati according to the International Monetary Fund, so economic development will remain its primary target.

Carbon-intensive industries like cement and steel will continue to be important as urbanisation gathers pace.

Coal-powered stations provide 70% of its energy at the moment and moving away from that requires a lot of technological and financial input.

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