Bali High

China is a polluted place but getting less so. That according to Germanwatch, a German environment watchdog that releases an annual ranking of the most environmentally friendly industrialized and developing countries.

Its latest annual Climate Change Performance Index, which covers 56 countries that account for 90% of global carbon dioxide emissions and was released at the U.N. conference on climate change now going on in Bali, puts China at 40th, up four places from last year. For the record, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are at the bottom of the list.

China’s advance up the ranking has caused some surprise. The report’s explanation:

It can be explained by its recently strong domestic and international engagement for renewable energy, the new climate protection regulations in the transport sector and its nowadays relatively constructive role in the UN climate negotiations.

China’s ranking also owes more to promise than performance. It scores highly on the policy-making component in the Index’s methodology, offsetting to some extent the drag of a poor trends score. Beijing has set a target of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010, ordered some industries to cut consumption by 20% and is encouraging the countries vast bureaucracy to stop driving gas-guzzling cars. (A breakdown of China’s score is here.)

This is driven in part by old-fashioned concerns of energy security and worsening droughts, floods and air quality, with the internal political fears that raises for the government.

But China is also winning praise at the Bali conference for the constructive role it is playing in contrast to its past stance. It has taken the lead among developing countries in calling for rich nations to speed up the transfer of cleaner technologies to help shift away from fossil fuels, and for developing nations not to have hard emission-cut targets imposed on them.

As a successor to the decade-old Kyoto agreement is taking shape, China is looking the gloablist and the U.S. the obstructionist.

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