INTERVIEW - China, India Urged To Avoid Obsession With Cars
Author: Jason Subler
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told Reuters that investing in improving railways and urban public transportation was one way countries such as China could balance the need for fighting climate change with that for economic growth.
"This excessive and growing reliance on private vehicular transport is certainly something that doesn't suit large, populous countries like China and India," Pachauri said.
China is already the world's second-largest vehicle market, despite only a small fraction of urban residents owning a car.
With incomes rising, car sales are growing by more than a fifth each year, contributing further to serious air pollution in cities, as well as to emissions. China is set to surpass the United States as the world's top emitter of carbon dioxide.
For its part, India will this year see the world's cheapest car, the Nano, hit its roads, bringing car ownership closer to within reach for millions of poorer consumers.
Pachauri acknowledged that investment in better public transport alone would not be enough to curb growth in private car ownership. Lifestyle changes stemming from better awareness of environmental issues would be important as well, he said.
That, in turn, places responsibility on Western countries.
"You won't get lifestyle changes in the developing world unless the developed world also makes some efforts to bring about those changes," he said.
"I mean, everybody over here watches television and they see all the good things in life in the developed world and naturally they're not prepared to give up that distant vision or dream."
Big developing nations such as China and India are reluctant to agree to any measures as part of global climate change negotiations that might curb their rapid industrialisation, arguing that rich countries, with much higher per capita emissions, should do more.
Implementing better regulations to improve the energy efficiency of buildings would be another way in which China and other emerging markets could make a difference on climate change without sacrificing growth, Pachauri said.
China has set targets to make new buildings 50 percent more energy efficient by 2010, but just over half of new buildings met energy conservation standards, state media said earlier this year, citing a government survey.
Pachauri, who is seeking a second six-year term as head of the IPCC, added that there was scope for China and India to work together more on technological and other solutions to help stem the rise of emissions.
"We have similar conditions in some respects -- we can come up with common solutions that would benefit both the countries," he said.