SEOUL — Pressure from a growing middle class will encourage China's leaders to push ahead with cleaning up the environment, the European Union's climate action commissioner said Tuesday.
Beijing also acknowledges the need to combat climate change and sees big business opportunities in green energy projects, Connie Hedegaard told a briefing during a visit to South Korea.
China, the world's second largest economy, is the top producer of carbon emissions blamed for climate change. But it is also the world's green investment leader, according to a survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Hedegaard cited its latest five-year plan, which envisages major pilot projects to test market-based "cap and trade" emissions control systems.
"I believe China has realised there is a limit to how much it can grow its economy without taking into consideration energy considerations, environmental considerations, air pollution, water quality, things like that," she said.
"In the end it's also about social stability, because when China now has had some 400 million citizens entering the middle class, they also demand clean water and air their children can breathe, like others will do."
Hedegaard said China had for the first time introduced a carbon target "because they can see that it's necessary, but it's very much because they can see it benefits their own economy".
The country already has 50 percent of the global wind power market, she noted.
Hedegaard said her visit to South Korea was partly aimed at discussing "cap and trade" market-based emissions trading schemes pioneered by Europe but now becoming more popular internationally.
"What was only recently more or less a European thing, where the whole idea originally was to make a global system and a system where we have a global price on carbon dioxide, now (this) actually seems to be moving forward," she said.
In Europe, GDP and manufacturing output had been increasing while emissions had been decreasing, "actually rather dramatically", and more than three million green jobs had been created, she said.
"We (Europe) really believe that to pursue this green growth strategy is the way to create growth in the 21st century," she said.
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