Write "climate change" in Chinese characters into the web search bar of baidu.com and what comes up? More than 3.7 million web pages devoted to the subject.
In 2007, the term "climate change", an awkward wording for many Chinese even just years ago, was highlighted in a package of government documents and came to influence the workings of officials and Chinese citizens.
Government Works Hard
As early as 1990, China set up a national coordination team under the State Council, the Chinese cabinet, to face the challenges presented by climate change. In 2007, the team, which was composed of a dozen ministers or deputy ministers from different sectors, was transformed into an enlarged body under the directorship of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
In 2007, China promulgated a fleet of policies and blueprints concerning climate change. This showed its determination to tackle the pressing problem.
To take the lead, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) issued the General Work Plan for Energy Conservation and Pollutant Discharge Reduction on June 3. This aimed at reducing the discharge of major pollutants by 10 percent during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).
Just one day later, the same organization published the National Climate Change Program, the first of its kind for a developing country. According to the 62-page program, which was presented as the "basic law" guiding China's endeavor to cope with climate change, the country would reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent, or four percent annually, before 2010 and slow down the increase of carbon dioxide emission.
In a corresponding act, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) made public China's Scientific and Technological Actions on Climate Change on June 14. MOST minister Wan Gang told the media that China would strive to make breakthroughs by 2020 in a batch of key technologies to control GHS and curb climate change.
Then in early September, the NDRC issued the Medium- and Long-Term Plan on the Development of Renewable Energy. Under this plan, China sought to bring the proportion of the consumption of renewable energy to 10 percent of total energy consumption by 2010, and up to 15 percent by 2020. In 2005, the proportion was merely 7.5 percent, as the country still relied heavily on coal and oil.
In the wake of these tough measures, climate change had become a testing ground to mark the performance of officials. Starting 2008, governors at all levels are obliged to report to the central government their efforts in saving energy and reducing pollutant discharge. Those who failed to achieve their respective goal would be punished, Xie Zhenhua, NDRC deputy director, warned on Nov. 29.
Behind the flurry of polices lay a shift in China's development strategy. Over the past five years, the country had maintained a double-digit economic increase, but the environment had paid a huge price for the growth. This was represented by the severe pollution of more than a few lakes and rivers throughout the country.
Addressing the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pledged China would spare no effort to pursue an ecological civilization that focused on environmental protection and coexistence with nature.
The international communities applauded China for its unremitting drive to fight climate change, which, as a developing country, had no concrete quota for reducing GHS as prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol.
"China is doing a great deal in terms of bringing about high efficiency of energy use," said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), during the just-completed United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia. He said China was doing what it could in combating climate change as the government was very conscious of the challenges posed by climate change impact
Civil Society Forges Ahead
For Beijing resident Dong Ruixiang, 2007 meant a change of both mindset and actions. Last summer, the 43-year-old college teacher participated in the "Global Warms, Everyone Shares" program sponsored by Friends of Nature (FON), one of the largest Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to environmental protection.
Dong made a commitment to cut his individual emission of carbon dioxide throughout the year. He contributed 750 RMB yuan (100 US dollars) for the planting of 30 trees as a means to compensate his personal discharge.
On June 22, Dong went to a local community and called on the residents to cut power off all electrical appliances between 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.. He was pleased to find that nearly half the households turned off lights and went out chatting with their neighbors.
That night, Dong sent more than 100 mobile short messages to his relatives and friends requesting their participation in switching off bulbs. "Climate change concerns everyone's livelihood. We should pursue a simple life instead of private cars and other things for show," said the academic who grew up in west China's Lanzhou, a city noted for its chemical industry.
Dong is not a rare case. The China Youth Daily released a survey in late August that found nearly 80 percent of the 2,500-plus interviewees were familiar with the concept of global warming and climate change and their impact. About 76 percent economized on electricity and water in their daily lives.
At the same time, Chinese NGOs were becoming important parties advancing the public awareness of climate change and policy-making of government.
Back in 2004, the Global Village of Beijing, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to environmental education and civil society strengthening, initiated a campaign calling on the public to keep air conditioners no lower than 26 degrees centigrade in summer. The grassroots program took effect and turned into a national circular. The State Council stipulated in June this year that all air-conditioned rooms of the central and local governments should meet the requirement.
FON President Yang Dongping, who is also a scholar at the Beijing Institute of Technology, believed that environmental NGOs would be given further roles to play. "In coping with climate change, NGOs can not only help shape the living habits of citizens, but also contribute to the scientific and rational policy-making process of government."
(Xinhua News Agency December 22, 2007)