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China and the UK declare global warming is 'one of the greatest challenges facing the world'

Steam rises from a chimney at the Junliangcheng power station in Tianjin, China. Leaders of both China and the UK have called on nations to reveal their action plans.

Steam rises from a chimney at the Junliangcheng power station in Tianjin, China. Leaders of both China and the UK have called on nations to reveal their action plans. Photo: Bloomberg

The leaders of China and the UK have declared the threat of global warming to be “one of the greatest challenges facing the world”, and have called on all nations to reveal their action plans well ahead of a major climate summit set for Paris in late 2015.

In a joint statement released on Tuesday by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his visiting Chinese counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang, the leaders said climate change was already happening, “much of it as a result of human activity”.

“The odds of extreme weather events, which threaten lives and property, have increased,” the statement said, citing the recent reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Sea levels are rising, and ice is melting faster than we expected.”

In a nod to the severe pollution frequently enveloping many Chinese cities, the statement added: “In addition, the burning of fossil fuels creates serious air pollution, affecting quality of life for millions. Both sides recognise that climate change and air pollution share many of the same root causes, as well as many of the same solutions.”

The comments are likely to be seen as further proof China, the world’s largest emitter of the greenhouse gases blamed for warming the planet, will place a cap on emissions. 

The country is particularly exposed to shifting climate patterns with much of its agriculture reliant on the regularity of seasonal snowmelt. In recent days, Chinese newspapers have carried reports that the area of frozen earth on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has shrunk 16 per cent in the past 30 years because of global warming.

China and Britain’s “urgent call to action” also follows the release earlier this month of the most ambitious climate action in US history by President Barack Obama. Some 1600 fossil-fuel burning power plants will have to cut emissions 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

The US move was announced days before Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s visit to Washington. Mr Abbott, who has previously derided climate science, said he would not support moves to curb emissions that would “clobber the economy”.

Australia has a target of cutting its 2000-level emissions 5 per cent by 2020, and the Abbott government has said it won’t review the target until at least 2015.

The country, though, may come under increasing international pressure – including at the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane in November – to raise the bar if momentum builds for stiffer climate measures ahead of the Paris summit set for December 2015.

“Both sides underline the importance for all countries to communicate their nationally determined contributions well in advance” of the Paris meeting, Premier Li and Prime Minister Cameron said in their joint statement.

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