China's share of greenhouse gas emissions is expected to exceed the world's biggest polluter, the United States, by around 2020 and pressure is mounting for Beijing to do more to limit global warming, analysts say.
With Russia's ratification this month of the Kyoto Protocol, the UN pact on climate change will finally come into force and attention will turn towards China, the second biggest emitter in the world, they said.
The United States has refused to ratify the protocol but China, having made a commitment, will be held accountable, environmentalists said.
"They have to do their best and step up development of renewable energy," said Lo Sze Ping, campaign director for Greenpeace in China.
"The Chinese government is not ambitious enough. It can do better."
China is a Kyoto member but as a developing country does not have to meet specific targets for cutting emissions.
In negotiations to begin in 2005 on the next phase of commitments for Kyoto Protocol signatories, developing countries will likely be asked to commit to clear anti-pollution targets, even if the requirement will not be as high as that of industrialized countries, experts said.
"China is the second biggest energy consumer in the world, accounting for 10 percent of global consumption ... China's active participation in combating climate change is of crucial importance," said Khalid Malik, the United Nations resident coordinator in Beijing.
China's emissions now account for 13 percent of the global total, compared with 26 percent for the United States, according to estimates.
With a population of 1.3 billion people, China's per capita emission rate is much lower than that of the United States, Europe or other developed countries.
China argues industrialized nations should take the lead as they generate more greenhouse gas per capita.
"China doesn't want its emission volume to be higher than the United States, but you have to look at our population size. You must look at how much per person," said Gao Guangsheng, a deputy director-general of the National Development and Reform Commission.
China is experiencing nearly double-digit annual economic growth. Its goal is to quadruple its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020. As the country industrializes, its energy consumption is expected to rise significantly, and with it, pollution.
"The priority is to satisfy our basic demand. The economy must develop. China has 1.3 billion people and we have to live," Gao said.
Experts and activists said China's argument was legitimate, but there was still much more the country could do.
China still relies on coal for about 75 percent of its energy. Coal-fired power plants account for a majority of the pollution China emits.
The amount of renewable energy it generates, meanwhile, is less than one percent of the total.
The government has pledged that by 2010, 10 percent of energy capacity will be provided by renewable energy.
Greenpeace believes China can make better use of renewable energy sources such as small hydroelectric plants; methods that use agricultural waste to generate energy and wind power.
But instead of moving towards those energy sources, China is building hundreds more polluting coal-fired power plants and has plans to build nuclear power plants.
"Many people want to invest in wind farms, but they can't get loans," Lo said, blaming the problem on "bureaucratic inertia."
"Government officials are not confident in new technology, unwilling to change policies."
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, China must also increase energy efficiency, said Dan Millison, an environment and energy specialist at the Asian Development Bank's Manila office.
"China uses at least three times as much energy per unit of GDP than OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries," Millison said.
"As of 2000-2001, China's economy was eight times more energy intensive than Japan and three times more energy intensive than the US; also three to four times more than Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and South Korea."
China is also aggressively expanding the automobile market, mimicking the United States.
"This will account for substantial growth in emissions, unless there is some radical shift to hybrids or other energy efficient transport system," Millison said.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.