Western countries 'shoulder responsibility' for climate change action

In a rare interview the Director of Climate Change at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in China has told ITV News that developed nations should take more responsibility for climate change rather than blaming others, ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports

China's Director of Climate Change at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has told ITV News that Western countries "shoulder the responsibility" for action on climate change due to the huge levels of pollution produced during their industrial development.

Li Gao said much of today's environmental problems started from the industrial revolution, which, he suggests, created a precedent which allowed greenhouse gas emissions to go unchecked for hundreds of years.

He says developed nations should now step up efforts to reduce emissions by supplying technology and financial aid to poorer nations in line with their "historical responsibilities".

Smoke and steam rise from towers at the coal-fired Urumqi Thermal Power Plant in Urumqi in western China. Credit: AP

"We can see who should shoulders the responsibility for the climate change today," Li Gao, the director general of the department of climate change, told ITV News.

"Developed countries emitting greenhouse gas without any restraint over the past few hundred years since the industrial revolution contributed to the climate change problem today.

"The climate change today is a result of the past emissions. So there is no way developed countries can shake off their responsibilities."

Coal is the primary source of power generation in China, which has been the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions for more than a decade.

The Chinese government has vowed to reduce the dependence on coal - and there will be intense pressure to cut emissions at Cop26, the global climate summit in Glasgow next month.

The summit will be the first time since the signing of the 2015 UN Paris agreement for countries to ratchet up their environmental commitments.

Along with all the other signatories to this accord, China agreed to make reforms to try to keep global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, and "well below" 2C.

President Xi Jinping's announcement in September 2020 of China’s new objective to peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 was welcomed as a further step by many.

The NBA player called China's premier Xi Jinping (pictured) a 'brutal dictator' Credit: AP

But the target has been shrouded in scepticism due to the lack of detail about how China will achieve this extremely ambitious goal.

Analysts warn the country's current actions make it highly unlikely to meet the targets.

Li Gao, however, says the establishment of a national climate change leadership group is one signal that the government is serious about meeting its environmental target.

"President Xi has talked about climate change many times, it is not that we were asked to do this, it is that we ourselves want to do this, this is the internal requirement of sustainable development," he said.

Li Gao said that climate change seriously threatens China, with rising sea levels posing a particular risk to coastal areas, in which 40% of the country's population lives.

"The loss of life and property by Chinese people is huge. So, we deal with climate change as a grave challenge," Li Gao, who works in the ministry of ecology and environment, added.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. Credit: AP

While acknowledging the destruction climate change could wreak, he admitted that the Chinese economy is still heavily reliant on coal.

But instead of closing down coal-fired power stations, China has been constructing new ones at more than 60 locations across the country of 1.4 billion, according to reports.

"The reality is that China’s economy, its society, as well as the power generating sectors are still heavily reliant on coal," he said.

"We need to deal with the problem of controlling coal use and reducing coal use while ensuring the development."

"China always honours its commitments, if we say it, we will do it carefully, we are not chanting slogans- we are not fooling anyone around."