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Rich nations should do more on climate, say Chinese

The sun rises on another smoggy day in China, which is now responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. EPA/Adrian Bradshaw

Greenhouse gas cuts pledged by developed countries will not be enough to stop temperatures rising by 2 degrees by 2100, according to Chinese researchers who argue wealthy nations should bear greater responsibility for tackling climate change.

The controversial assertion is contained in a paper published today in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper, produced by 37 Chinese climate scientists and statisticians, says that two types of modelling show developed nations were responsible for 60% to 80% of the global temperature rise, upper ocean warming and sea-ice reduction until 2005.

Pledges to reduce emissions made by those nations at the 2010 United Nations Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico, will not be enough to stop temperatures reaching dangerous levels by the end of the century, the researchers say.

“The emissions-reduction commitments by developed countries in the Cancun pledges cannot effectively curb climate change, nor does it reflect their historical ethical responsibility, which still accounts for greater than half of the total climate change impacts by 2005, despite the rapid growth in emissions from the developing world,” they say.

“Thus stronger mitigation efforts by developed countries are needed to keep temperature rise below the 2-degree objective on the basis of equity in the future.”

China’s own greenhouse gas emissions have soared in the past decade. It became the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2006 and is now responsible for a quarter of all human emissions worldwide. It produced 8.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010 - an increase of 15.5% on the previous year, and up 240% on 1992, when the The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio.

“There’s been a debate going on for decades about the equity among different countries - it’s an unusual debate, but it’s a debate nonetheless,” said Grant Wardell-Johnson, the Director of the Curtin Institute for Biodiversity and Climate at Curtin University.

“[The debate] is beside the point, because if nations were doing something - anything - it’d be a start. It’s a little bit hypothetical to talk about doing more. Developed nations are doing virtually doing.

"There’s no sign that there’s any appetite to reduce emissions in developed nations at all. There’s actually a good example in Australia, where there’s now disquiet, if you like, about the idea of even a price on carbon dioxide, despite it’s clearly having minimal impact on the hip pocket … even a tax on carbon, which is a fairly minimal approach towards dealing with carbon dioxide emissions.”

Australia introduced a carbon price scheme on July 1. In China, five cities - Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chongqing - and two provinces - Guangdong and Hubei - are expected to launch the country’s first emissions trading schemes next year in a bid to rein in emissions growth.

Professor Wardell-Johnson added that “people are much better at dealing with immediate crises - such as the flood, or the fire, or the hurricane - that happens to them, which may be the result of climate change, than they are at dealing with the ultimate cause of these things. That’s something we’ll have to come to grips with in future, because we’ve only had a 0.8-degree increase in temperatures so far.”

A report published today shows that Australians are confused about climate science and unconvinced about carbon pricing solutions but are still “up for grabs” on both.

The Climate of the Nation 2012 report, produced by The Climate Institute, says that 69% of people still accept that humans are driving climate change to some extent. The results are based on a survey of 1,131 adults in April and May.

“Party politics and cost scares have taken their toll but a strong majority still accepts humans are at least partly driving climate change and broader anxiety about climate impacts point to support for climate action being up for grabs,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute.

“One thing that’s clear is that Australians’ vision for a low-carbon future is one that taps into the nation’s abundant renewable energy resource. There is overwhelming support for renewables, especially solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency measures for industry and households with coal less popular than nuclear in the ideal energy mix.”

According to the report, 64% of people aged 18 to 34 said they were concerned about climate change, compared with 54% of those aged 35 to 54, and 46% of those aged 55 and older. Around 10% said there is no need for action.

Sixty-six percent thought there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be sure about the claims made around climate change.

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