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5th Mar 2024

Middle class pushing Chinese climate action, says EU commissioner

  • China and South Korea are planning EU-inspired carbon emission trading systems (Photo: European Parliament)

China has begun to rethink its environment policies due to pressure from a growing middle class, EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard said during a visit in South Korea on Tuesday (3 May).

"I believe China has realised there is a limit to how much it can grow its economy without taking into consideration energy considerations, environmental considerations, air pollution, water quality, things like that," she said of the 80th biggest CO2 emitter per capita on the planet but the biggest carbon polluter overall.

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Citing Beijing's latest five-year plan, Hedegaard noted that the Asian giant has become the world's largest investor in green technologies and that it has introduced a carbon target "because they can see that it's necessary. But it's very much because they can see it benefits their own economy".

The country already has 50 percent of the world's global wind power market, she pointed out.

"In the end, it's also about social stability, because when China now has had some 400 million citizens entering the middle class, they also demand clean water and air their children can breathe, like others will do."

She said that Beijing has also drawn inspiration from what was initially "more or less a European thing" - the bloc's flagship climate policy, the emissions trading system - despite a recent security blunder which saw the whole system put on hold for months and commission data suggesting that the bulk of emissions reductions in Europe have resulted from fall out of the economic crisis rather than its cap-and-trade scheme.

The EU kicked off the world's largest market for greenhouse gases in 2005, capping emissions from some 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 30 countries.

South Korea is also looking at a similar system and has unveiled a draft plan, aiming to get the market running between 2013 and 2015.

"Our counterparts recognise that all the experience Europe has gained for good and for worse, what to do, but also what not to do ... can be used so that others can move to the right solutions," Hedegaard told Reuters.

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