Rich industrialised nations must take the lead in cutting greenhouse gases since they bear the "unshirkable responsibility" for causing global warming, a Chinese official said on Tuesday.

The comments by a foreign ministry spokeswoman underscore China's determination not to allow international action on climate change to undermine its economic development.

Rapid economic growth, a huge population and inefficient industry have made China the world's second largest carbon emitter after the US - new data show that power generating capacity in the country in 2006 expanded by an amount equal to the entire capacity of the UK and Thailand combined. But the country's per capita emissions have remained far below the global average.

"It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long-term historic emissions of developed countries and their high per-capita emissions," Reuters news agency quoted Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, at a briefing on Tuesday.

"Developed countries bear an unshirkable responsibility," Ms Jiang said.

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last week that human activity was likely to cause global temperatures to rise about 3 degrees celsius by 2100, causing water shortages, heatwaves, storms and floods.

Beijing's top weather bureau official said on Tuesday China was serious about tackling climate change but needs time to introduce the advanced environmental technology available to developed countries.

Qin Dahe, head of the China Meteorological Administration, said Chinese per capita emissions in 2000 were just 0.65 tonnes per person - one fifth of levels in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

There have been recent signs that Beijing is preparing to take a more activist approach on curbing emissions, following a official government enquiry that concluded warming could intensify China's water shortages and undermine agriculture.

"The Chinese government takes the problem of climate change extremely seriously - President Hu Jintao has said that it is not just an environmental issue but a development issue," Mr Qin said.

Wen Jiabao, the premier, was also "very seriously" pushing officials at all levels to achieve the government target of improving energy efficiency by 4 per cent a year, he said.

However, the comments by Ms Jiang and Mr Qin offer no encouragement for international critics who feel that China should impose limits on its greenhouse gas emissions.

Beijing has been reluctant to discuss what role it might play in carbon curbs after the present provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.

Along with India and other developing countries, China was exempted from emissions curbs under the protocol, which was anyway never ratified by the US.

Mr Qin made clear that other countries should not expect too much of China.

"As a developing country with a fast growing economy and large population, it will require a great deal of money to completely change the energy structure and adopt clean energy," he said.

China would "need time" to catch up with the US, Europe and Japan in the use of clean energy technology, he said.

Chinese analysts have in the past expressed disappointment with the level of environmental technology transfer, a key goal of the Kyoto Protocol.

However, Beijing is benefiting from trading schemes set up under the protocol that are intended to find the most efficient ways to cut total emissions by allowing companies and countries to buy "carbon credits" that represent reductions achieved in China.