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Politburo Talks Point To Climate Change Action

Wang Xiangwei – Updated on Jun 30, 2008 – SCMP

As soon as President Hu Jintao came to power in late 2002, he introduced a regular study session for all members of the Communist Party’s Politburo. This was aimed at educating and providing a forum for top leaders to discuss strategic and significant national issues.

Although details of the sessions are kept secret, Xinhua usually releases short summary remarks by Mr Hu after the meetings.

Some dismiss the sessions as mere public relations exercises and the sessions receive scant attention from overseas media.

But for many observers, reports of the subjects covered in the sessions and Mr Hu’s summaries – though couched in official jargon – can provide a rare glimpse into the leadership’s lines of thinking on strategic issues.

Previous discussions have mainly focused on subjects such as the rule of law, national defence, the economy, agriculture and how to strengthen control of the party. So it is interesting to note Xinhua’s report on Saturday that the Politburo’s latest study session on Friday was devoted to climate change.

This is significant in several ways. Recognising the importance of climate change and addressing the matter have finally become a priority for the mainland leadership after years of empty talk.

“How we cope with climate change is related to the country’s economic development and people’s practical benefits,” Xinhua quoted Mr Hu as saying. “It is in line with the country’s basic interests.

“Our task is tough, and our time is limited. Party organisations and governments at all levels must give priority to emissions reduction … and bring the idea deep into people’s hearts.”

He called for efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by optimising energy efficiency, promoting recycling, increasing forest coverage, exploring water resources scientifically and strengthening international co-operation.

The timing of the study session is also interesting as it came just days before the Group of Eight meeting in Japan, where Mr Hu will join world leaders to discuss climate change, among other issues.

The buzz is intensifying in Beijing that Mr Hu is likely to put forward some bold proposals at the meeting, although it remains unclear what those proposals might be.

Beijing has resisted international efforts to impose targets for reducing emissions on developing countries, including China. Mr Hu has argued that developed countries should step up efforts on emissions reduction, and should provide financial and technical support to developing countries.

China is among the countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, although Beijing is only required to monitor and report its emissions.

To be sure, one Politburo study session is unlikely to lead to immediate policy changes on climate change, but it can help trigger a national debate on what the mainland should do and can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Although officials still refuse to acknowledge it, the mainland has already overtaken the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Many officials have argued that the mainland produces far less on a per capita basis than many developed countries, and some even believe the conspiracy theory that western countries have used climate change as an excuse to derail the mainland’s economic growth – why should China, which embarked on industrialisation only 30 years ago, take the blame when western countries have polluted the climate for the past 200 years.

That means it is of the utmost importance that this country’s leaders launch a national campaign to educate the public on the impact of global warming on China.

Evidence abounds: persistent smog over Beijing despite efforts to clean up the air for the Olympics; recent reports of algae outbreaks in Qingdao’s harbour, where the Olympic sailing events are to be held; and abnormal weather in recent years that has included the February snowstorm that paralysed southern parts of the country, as well as serious flooding in the south and dried riverbeds in the north.

But before the public can take the issue seriously and government can act, the leaders should know what they are dealing with. That is why the Politburo session is a step in the right direction.

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