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China moves to shrink its carbon footprint

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Four months ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris predicted that China would not be emitting more heat-trapping CO2 than the US until 2010. But with Chinese growth steaming ahead at an annual 11.1 percent so far this year, and with energy-intensive industries such as aluminum expanding by 43 percent, the energy watchdog has brought its estimate forward by two years.

Grim outlook if China doesn't act

If nothing were done, within 25 years China's emissions would be double the combined output of all industrialized nations, said Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist. That is largely because China is fueling its growth with coal, a noxious source of CO2 and other pollutants. As the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world, China uses the fossil fuel to generate 69 percent of its primary energy, according to official figures.

The effects are visible and getting worse, Chinese scientists are warning.

On the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, "one quarter of the glaciers that existed 350 years ago have disappeared," Qin Dahe, a former Chinese climate-change negotiator, said Monday. At current melt rates, "another quarter will disappear by 2050."

Those glaciers, he said, "are vital to people's economy and livelihood" in most of China and South Asia. "The water from these glaciers supports life for half the world's population."

"Climatic warming may have serious consequences for our survival environment, as China's economic sectors such as agriculture and coastal regions suffer grave negative effects," the Climate Change Assessment Report predicts.

Water shortages and high temperatures could reduce harvests by 10 percent by 2030; wheat, rice, and corn output could collapse by as much as 37 percent after 2050, the report says. "If we do not take any action, climate change will seriously damage China's long-term grain security."

Such grim prospects have prompted the government to set its own emissions goals. Most ambitiously, the new assessment pledges to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 80 percent by 2050.

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