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EU Loan Could Help China Progress in Curbing Emissions

Chinese officials say they are reducing energy use and major pollutant emissions, but are struggling to reach their own targets. Some help is coming, however: the European Union is loaning China more than $700 million for projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing, where improvements are not yet visible.

Chinese environmental authorities say energy intensity in China, a measure of energy efficiency, has fallen by three percent in the first nine months of this year.

The officials said sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions also decreased. But they did not give any figures, and refused to predict whether they will meet reduction goals for 2007.

Nonetheless, the deputy director of the environmental protection agency, Zhang Lijun, said total emissions this year would be lower.

Zhang says reducing pollution has been difficult and the challenges severe. But he says policies are being implemented smoothly, and major emissions of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide are expected to go down compared to 2006.

China's central government has committed itself to significant reductions in energy intensity and emissions by 2010. Progress is slow, however, and last year, sulfur dioxide emissions actually rose slightly.

Scientists believe greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, and most nations around the world are trying to reduce emissions by cutting down on the use of fuels such as oil and coal.

China's ambitious policy has proven tough to enforce, because local officials have favored energy-intensive projects to boost their economies.

"Responsibilities for energy reduction and emission targets are still not being completely implemented. If this situation does not turn around quickly, it will have a major effect on our reaching energy emission and reduction targets," said Xie Zhenghua, the deputy director of China's Development and Reform Commission.

Xie says from 1990 to 2005, China reduced energy intensity by 47 percent, but critics question the accuracy of such statistics.

China has shut down hundreds of polluting factories, but air pollution has shown no signs of improvement. On some days, visibility in Chinese cities, including here in Beijing, is reduced to only a few hundred meters.

Many international scientists say China may have already overtaken the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, although on a per capita basis, the U.S. remains the leader.

Chinese officials have rejected mandatory caps on emissions and say industrialized nations should shoulder most of the burden in helping developing countries like China cope with climate change.

On Thursday, the President of the European Investment Bank, Philippe Maystadt, said the bank would lend China more than $700 million for projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Maystadt said the loan would not involve the usual requirement that the money be used to purchase EU technology, because improving the global environment is in Europe's best interest.