The secretary-general's call for China to joint industrialized countries in slashing greenhouse gas emissions came as devastating floods in the country's Hunan and Jiangxi provinces left dozens of people dead or missing, displaced hundreds of thousands, and sent relief groups to the two provinces.
As of late Saturday, five people were dead, 10 were missing and about 64,000 were relocated to escape the widespread heavy rain that has been falling in Hunan since July 23, said the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
A road washed away by earlier this month floods in Liu San Jie township in Yizhou prefecture, Guangxi in southwestern China. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Extreme weather patterns of floods and droughts are among the consequences of global warming triggered by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that trap the Sun's heat close to the planet.
"China has long been the world's fastest-growing major economy," said the secretary-general. "It is also a leading emitter of greenhouse gases, and one of the countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Thus China's progress on achieving sustainable economic and energy policies simultaneously is crucial not just for the citizens of China, but also for the citizens of the whole world."
"Your approach to climate change can demonstrate to the world that China is ready to take up a global leadership role in the 21st century," said Ban, a South Korean diplomat on his third visit to China as UN secretary-general.
"By investing in green economy and green growth, your country has an opportunity to leapfrog over decades of traditional development based on high polluting fuels," he said. "The key is prioritizing clean energy, which China has already begun to do, creating new jobs, spurring innovation, and ushering in a new era of global prosperity.
"In so doing, China can serve as the vanguard of tomorrow's economy, and today," said Ban. "China can be a model not only for developing nations, but for the whole world."
The Chinese government supports the UN's leading role in promoting international cooperation to curb climate change, Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday while meeting with the secretary-general.
"The climate change issue is both an environmental and development problem," Wen said. Developed countries should offer more concrete help to developing nations in funding, technology and capability building, which helps the sustainable development of the whole world, said the premier.
Ban warned that, "Climate change is accelerating much faster than one expects. That means all countries need to do more, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities."
UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon, left and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands in Beijing, July 24, 2009. (Photo by Eskinder Debebe courtesy UN)
Earlier this month, in Italy, the G-8 leaders agreed to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Ban said that while he applauded this pledge, he also said it was not enough to meet the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions. "To be credible," he said, "we need to match ambitious long-term goals with equally ambitious mid-term targets, with clear baselines."
On September 22, Ban will convene a summit of world leaders to look at the challenges and the opportunities we face in advance of the UN's annual climate conference in Copenhagen. There, world governments are expected to finalize an agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.
"Major developing economies have a critical role to play in the negotiations," said Ban, "Brazil, India, Mexico, South Africa and, most importantly, China."
Ban praised China's "remarkable progress" in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency and urged the Chinese government to build on this progress, including "through energy and carbon intensity targets."
Strong signals from China on mitigation actions, announced before Copenhagen, will help push the negotiating process forward, said Ban.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praises China for its clean energy efforts and urges faster progress. (Photo courtesy UNDP China)
"Your dynamic renewable energy sector is worth nearly $17 billion and employs close to one million workers. This is already impressive, but the future holds an even greater opportunity," said the secretary-general. "China has extraordinary potential for wind and solar energy. Thanks to wind and solar energy, China could further reduce its dependence on coal, which accounts for 85 percent of its carbon emissions."
China is moving towards cleaner energy generation.
The secretary-general made his remarks at the signing of a document on the phase-out of incandescent lamps and promotion of energy saving lamps, the so-called "Green Lights Event," between the representatives of the United Nations Development Programme and Chinese government officials.
On July 15, U.S. and Chinese officials announced plans to develop a U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The Center would facilitate joint research and development on clean energy by teams of scientists and engineers from the U.S. and China, as well as serve as a clearinghouse to help researchers in each country.
The new center was announced during a diplomatic visit of U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to Beijing.
Chinese Minister of Science Wan Gang and Administrator of National Energy Administration Zhang Guo Bao made the announcement with Secretary Chu. The U.S. and China together pledged $15 million to support initial activities.
Priority topics to be addressed will initially include building energy efficiency, clean coal including carbon capture and storage, and clean vehicles.
"We need to see more such initiatives," Ban said Friday. "Cooperation in sharing green technologies must be an important part of a Copenhagen deal."
"The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting," warned Ban. "If this continues, livelihoods of a billion people will change across Asia. Three hundred million of them will be in China. Water shortages are already real and serious, in northern China and Mongolia, where I travel next. If this continues, the Gobi Desert will become more vast … the Yellow River will continue to shrink … crop yields will drop by a third in the second half of the twenty-first century, according to scientists."
In addition to his meetings with Mongolian government leaders, Ban spent time with a traditional herder community in central Mongolia Saturday as he underlined the impact of climate change on landlocked countries.
The secretary-general met with members of the Bayansonginot herder community and stayed overnight in a ger, a type of traditional Mongolian dwelling, to understand the impacts of climate change.
The secretary-general heard about the impact of climate change in Hustai National Park, located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and inhabited by wild horses.
"You have a problem of desertification," said Ban to the Mongolians. "You have also economic degradation problems. But these are all common challenges which we must address." In addition to drought and desertification, climate change brings flooding.
On July 17, severe flooding occurred in and around Ulanbataar, leaving at least 24 people dead and some 2,000 households affected. The International Federal of Red Cross says the numbers may rise as more information is received. People have lost their homes and possessions, and thousands of heads of livestock have died.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.