Smog will drive China climate action, says France foreign minister

Laurent Fabius says Beijing knows it must take “bolder action” to cut pollution, expects cooperation on UN 2015 deal

(Pic: Sporkmaster/flickr)

(Pic: Sporkmaster/flickr)

By Ed King

France’s foreign minister says the appalling pollution levels now blighting China’s main cities should spur the country’s leaders into pushing for an ambitious climate deal.

Laurent Fabius, who travelled to China at the end of February, spoke of his horror at the choking smogs that cloak many urban areas in the world’s most populous country.

“I went to Beijing and Tianjin, which is 150 km from the capital, and people couldn’t go out for a week. The pollution level was 18 times higher than the authorized maximum,” he told Le Monde.

“The Chinese are perfectly aware of this, the Chinese authorities are starting to take measures, but even bolder measures are going to have to be taken.”

Describing climate change as a problem that “could turn our lives upside down”, Fabius said he was now counting on China to play an active role in next year’s UN summit in Paris, where countries have agreed to sign off a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Fabius is part of the team charged with laying the diplomatic groundwork for the agreement, which will require the USA and China to accept significant greenhouse gas cuts if it is to be deemed a success.

“When President Xi Jinping comes to France on an official visit at the end of March, it’s one of the main themes that will be discussed with the French President,” he said.

Toxic fumes

Smog generated from China’s use of coal for electricity and heavy industry is increasingly being noticed by its 1.35 billion population.

New analysis by Greenpeace reveals that residents in 29 Chinese cities faced more than 30 days of “emergency” air pollution levels last year.

The cities of Xingtai and Shijiazhuang, home to more than 9 million people, both experienced more than 100 days of “unhealthy air” in 2013.

Beijing suffered 60 days of choking smog, embarrassing the government, which last week “declared war” on air pollution.

Reuters reports the country’s nascent carbon markets could be under threat as the administration seeks more direct ways of cutting pollution, perhaps in the form of an “environment tax”.

“We have to reflect the requests of the majority through many consultation rounds,” the Beijing Morning Post quotes deputy environment minister Zhu Guangyao saying.

UN negotiators are currently locked in week-long discussions in Bonn debating how a global emissions reduction deal could work.

China, the world’s largest carbon polluter and biggest investor in renewable energy, says it is unwilling to accept any tough emission targets unless ‘developed’ countries double their efforts by 2020.

Report: China demands rich countries make 40% carbon cuts

Read more on: Climate Politics | UN climate talks |