Chinese political advisors are calling for imposing a carbon tax on energy-intensive and high-emission businesses and promoting low-carbon awareness campaigns among the general public amid efforts to combat global climate change.
It is "obviously necessary" and "feasible" for China to levy such a tax, an environmental tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, said Jia Kang, director of the Research Institute of Fiscal Science with the Finance Ministry Tuesday.
"That will help reduce carbon emissions, eliminate low-efficiency and backward technologies, encourage the development of clean energy and low-carbon industries, and promote sustainable development," he said.
Jia, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made the remarks while attending the ongoing annual session of the country's top political advisory body in Beijing.
He said China has imposed taxes related to protecting the environment, such as the fuel tax, but the environmental taxation system still needs improvement.
"As a tax directly targeting carbon emissions, a carbon tax is able to markedly strengthen the control of carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption," he said.
Jia also pointed out that the levying of a carbon tax can reduce risks of being hurt in international trade friction, as some developed countries have mulled levying such a tax and will also likely impose carbon tariffs on imported products from other countries that do not have quotas for emissions reductions -- like the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last June.
"But if we have already levied a carbon tax in China, the other countries would be suspected of double taxation by imposing carbon tariffs, which violates World Trade Organization agreements," he said.
Jia said it is "feasible" for China to levy a carbon tax on the basis of the successful implementation of fuel tax reforms and the consensus of developing a low-carbon economy reached by the government and public.
"If the reform of resource taxes goes well, we can consider starting to levy a carbon tax within 2-5 years after that reform is completed," he said.
China will build an industrial system and consumption pattern with low carbon emissions, Premier Wen Jiabao said in his government work report delivered March 5 at the opening meeting of the annual session of the country's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC).
The plan calls for the country to work hard to develop low-carbon technologies as well as new and renewable energy resources to actively respond to climate change, Wen told NPC deputies, adding that the development of smart power grids should be intensified.
Other measures to combat climate change include increasing forest carbon sinks and expanding China's forests by at least 5.92 million hectares in 2010.
Further, he promised that China would participate in international cooperation to address climate change and work for additional progress in the global cause.
Wen also addressed energy conservation, environmental protection and the development of a circular economy.
"We will increase our energy-saving capacity by an equivalent of 80 million tons of standard coal (this year)," he said.
For developing a circular economy, Wen said China would utilize mineral resources, recycle industrial waste, use by-product heat and pressure to generate electricity, and transform household solid waste into resources.
A draft plan for China's national economic and social development submitted to the NPC on March 5 also pledged that the country would formulate and implement policies to meet its action targets for limits on greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and to promote international discussions on countering climate change.
In November, the Chinese government announced a "voluntary action" before the Copenhagen Conference to reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent compared with 2005 levels, in order to address global climate change.
On March 1, the National Development and Reform Commission also confirmed that the government would take concrete actions to develop a low-carbon economy.
The country would include the low-carbon targets in the 12th five-year plan for national economic development (2011-2015) to build an energy-saving, ecologically friendly society, the commission said.
It would launch a series of technological and fiscal support policies to promote the use of non-fossil, renewable energies including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and nuclear power, aiming to increase its proportion of primary energy consumption to about 15 percent by 2020 from 9.9 percent at year-end 2009.
However, low-carbon awareness among the general public still needs to be popularized, lawmakers and political advisors said.
"In some regions, and especially in small towns, disposable cups and chopsticks are still being used widely by consumers who believe this lifestyle is good for their health. But they have little understanding about the environmental pollution incurred," said CPPCC member Hong Meixiang from northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
"It will take a long time for the idea of a 'low-carbon life' to become deeply rooted in the hearts of the general public," she said.
She proposed that the government greatly disseminate the idea of a "low carbon life" -- in decision making, in project implementation and in individuals' lifestyles.
"We should tell consumers directly what the benefits of a 'low-carbon life' are and the harm done by a 'high-carbon life,' and promote the awareness of saving a piece of paper, a drop of water, a kwh of electricity, a liter of oil..." she said.
As the main body of industrial production activities in society, businesses should apply their understanding of low carbon into real practices, instead of just using the new concept to attract attention and promote their products, said NPC deputy Chang Dechuan, board chairman of the Qingdao Port Group from eastern Shandong Province.
"To develop a low-carbon economy, businesses should step up efforts to develop low-carbon products. What is more important is that they should develop low-carbon technologies with independent innovations," he said.