April 28, 2008
Don’t Count on China to Put the Brakes on Development
China is gearing up to announce an action plan for dealing with climate change, but chances are it's not going to include binding limits on its emissions. AFP reported yesterday that China will pledge to "actively join" a post-Kyoto Protocol deal to take action on global warming. The Japanese Foreign Ministry released a statement that said:
China will take notice of Japan's view that the world as a whole needs to slash greenhouse gas emissions at least by half by 2050 from the current level, and China will show its willingness to study ways and measures to realize the ultimate purpose [of the UN framework on climate change.]
China has said it will announce its plan during President Hu Jintao's visit to Tokyo, which began today. Yvo De Boer burst into tears in Bali after China's announcement that it would fix its position outside the UNFCCC framework; now that China seems poised to adopt a serious plan, environmental bloggers are taking it as an omen of positive change.
But any position China takes on climate change will tie emissions reductions to living standards, meaning it is unlikely to agree to any action that increases energy prices. Of course, China has said they'll happily accept help from the west to get cleaner technologies and improve energy efficiency. And this is an "offer" that we should accept -- after all, those dirty, carbon-emitting factories in China are producing goods for the rest of the world, so we have some responsibility to help them clean up their energy supply. When counted as emissions created through consumption, Britain's went up 19 percent rather than declining 15 percent.
Everyone is looking to China for its action plan, but the more important question to be asking is this: what's our plan for transferring clean, low-cost energy to China? Think of it as a way of thanking them for producing so much of what the rest of the world consumes -- and as a way of ensuring that the trend of global development is not at odds with a livable climate.