The slowdown in the global economy caused by the financial crisis should not be allowed to hamper efforts to deal with global warming, said Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, and more technology should be transferred to poorer countries.
“It took developed countries several decades to solve the problems of saving energy and cutting emissions, while China has to solve the same problem in a much shorter period. So the difficulty is unprecedented,” Mr Wen said at a United Nations-sponsored conference in Beijing on climate change.
“Developed countries shoulder the duty and responsibility to tackle climate change and should alter their unsustainable lifestyle,” he said.
The comments reflect the more assertive tone that China has been taking in discussions about climate change, especially given the expectation that a Barack Obama administration will shift the position of the US.
With several research institutes calculating that China has overtaken the US to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – even though it is still well behind on a per capita basis – the government is worried that its record could become the focus of negotiations.
A senior European diplomat visiting Beijing said: “Everyone is waiting to see what the new US administration does but China very much does not want to become a pariah on this issue. You will see them being more constructive and also trying to shift the argument much more.”
Although Beijing has been reluctant to sign up to agreed targets for reduced emissions, Chinese scientists have become more worried about the impact of climate change on the country’s agriculture.
Independently of the international negotiations, China has set ambitious goals to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent by 2010, although officials admit that emissions will continue to increase for some time because of China’s dependence on coal as its main source of energy.