The US and China on climate

The Economist is running an interesting debate on the topic: “This house believes that China is showing more leadership than America in the fight against climate change.”

It’s a discussion I look forward to, primarily because of how it will highlight actions that China is taking. Too many people believe that China has shown no leadership whatsoever on this issue and is in a position to eliminate any benefits that arise from emission reductions elsewhere. As it happens, I think the Chinese leadership is concerned about the issue, and is hopefully open to the kind of comprehensive international agreement that will be necessary to put the world on a pathway of declining greenhouse gas emissions.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

16 thoughts on “The US and China on climate”

  1. I find it surprising that 74% of those on the site are in agreement with the motion. Surely the conventional wisdom is that China is doing very little.

  2. This is a strange debate. Neither state is showing much leadership on climate change. Why is it important to decide which one is showing the most not enough?

  3. Because the ‘China is doing nothing’ talking point is a powerful one. I have heard the argument “Why should we take an economic hit, when China is building a million coal plants a day” many times.

    Showing that China is taking some actions unilaterally partially defuses that. It also suggests that they might be willing to make a big international deal.

  4. “For its part, China has been using its vast current account surpluses to buy up energy cmpanies and controlling stakes in oil fields in many parts of the world. It has also embarked on an ambitious plan to dominate the production of solar panels, which the Chinese intend to build for their own and the world’s transition to low-carbon energy production. China will also soon become the largest source of wind power in the world, and is building an 800-kilovolt super grid connecting all parts of the country to the most sophisticated smart transmission and distribution network for electricity the world has ever seen.”

    Gore, Al. Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. (p. 21 paperback)

  5. “It’s true that pushing such tariffs in the middle of a global recession and trade slowdown, when the Chinese and the rest of the world have just begun to make good diplomatic progress towards an emissions accord, may be ill-timed. But one thing to remember about China is that it is capable of making rapid infrastructure-altering moves that are almost unimaginable in the West, given the right incentives. Concerned about exhaust from gas-powered motorbikes, China’s cities banned them, and created the world’s leading electric motorbike industry. Worried about pollution during the 2008 Olympics, China built five new Beijing subway lines and moved the city’s entire heavy industry sector to the countryside. China’s stimulus package to fight the global financial crisis involves levels of investment in high-speed rail that are inconceivable in the West. Right now, China is building huge numbers of coal-fired power plants because the economics of green energy and conservation don’t yet make sense for its electricity sector. Change those incentives, and it’s a safe bet that China’s response will astound the world.”

  6. A special report on climate change and the carbon economy
    A long game

    Dec 3rd 2009
    From The Economist print edition
    China sees opportunities as well as dangers in climate change

    One reason for this change is the country’s growing awareness of its vulnerability to a warming world. The monsoon seems to be weakening, travelling less far inland and dumping its rainfall on the coasts. As a result China is seeing floods in the south-east and droughts in the north-west. At the same time the country’s leaders are deeply concerned about the melting of the glaciers on the Tibetan plateau, which feed not just the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra and the Mekong but also the Yangzi and Yellow rivers.

  7. How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room
    As recriminations fly post-Copenhagen, one writer offers a fly-on-the-wall account of how talks failed

    What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.

    Shifting the blame

    To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.

    China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak “as soon as possible”. The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.

  8. Obama being the hypnotizing, endlessly fascinating figure that he is, much attention has focused on his role in the talks. To hear some green lefties tell it, Obama is single-handedly responsible for failing to secure a full, legally binding treaty.

    But if there’s a party to blame, it’s China. It’s China that was off meeting with India and Brazil, trying to avoid getting ensnared in any commitments at all, forcing Obama to track them down. It was China that refused to sign off on the target of 50% global reductions by 2050. It was China that forced rich countries not to commit to 80% reductions by 2050, lest it some day have to live up to that target. (Yes, China forced rich countries to trim their ambitions. “Ridiculous,” said Merkel.) It was China who, up until the very last minute, refused to agree to any international verification at all, and only upon the personal intervention of Premier Wen Jiabao agreed to accept a voluntary system of reporting. (Read The Washington Post for that extraordinary story.)

    It’s China, in short, that was unwilling to sign onto anything but the most bare-bones framework. But it’s China without which no international climate system can work—it is, after all, the top emitter in absolute terms. By all accounts Obama practically knocked himself silly against the wall of Chinese intransigence, with two extended one-on-one meetings with Wen, but in the end he could only get what he could get, and it sounds like it was something of a miracle he got anything at all.

  9. Climate change after Copenhagen
    China’s thing about numbers
    Dec 30th 2009 | COPENHAGEN
    From The Economist print edition

    How an emerging superpower dragged its feet, then dictated terms, at a draining diplomatic marathon

    So too were a number of other conditions that Europeans and others would have liked, such as a date for peak emissions. “Why?”, a cluster of journalists asked Lars-Erik Liljelund, the Swedish government’s point man on climate, in the early hours of Saturday December 19th. Why would a pledge that applied only to rich nations, and to which all those nations seemed to agree, have vanished from the final document? After maybe ten seconds of what-can-I-say silence came the flat reply: “China don’t like numbers.”

  10. Given that developing countries are likely to suffer most from climate change, we ought to hope that they get wise to how China is using the developed/developing split to undermine their interests for China’s gain.

    Because of their huge and growing emissions, it just doesn’t make sense to put China in the same legal category as Chad or Ethiopia.

  11. China has ‘open mind’ on cause of climate change

    China’s lead climate change negotiator has said he was keeping an “open attitude” as to whether global warming was man-made or due to natural cycles.

    Xie Zhenhua said climate warming was a “solid fact” and that mainstream scientific opinion held it was due to emissions of gases such as CO2.

    He was speaking in Delhi at a meeting of envoys from Brazil, China, India and South Africa.

    They agreed to submit their plans to cut emissions by the end of January.

  12. China To Connect Its High-Speed Rail To Europe

    “China already has the most advanced and extensive high-speed rail lines in the world, and soon that network will be connected all the way to Europe and the UK. With initial negotiations and surveys already complete, China is now making plans to connect its HSR line through 17 other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe in order to connect to the existing infrastructure in the EU. Additional rail lines will also be built into South East Asia as well as Russia, in what will likely become the largest infrastructure project in history.” They hope to get it done within 10 years, with China providing the financing in exchange for raw materials, in some cases.

  13. China starts a green attack

    2,087 energy-intensive factories ordered to be shut down, and one of the largest steel plants is now a model for a new environment strategy

    Amid an ugly, sprawling stretch of razed land in this developing city rises a hulking new facility that represents the future of China’s steel industry.

    The Shougang Jingtang United Steel Co. Ltd. mill ranks among the largest steel plants ever built in China and uses state-of-the-art technology that not only improves efficiency but keeps carbon emissions to a minimum.

    The Caofeidian mill is just the kind of modern facility that China hopes will provide the steel needed to fulfill its massive infrastructure construction plans over the next decade. And for the country’s thousands of small, dirty and inefficient steel producers, the Caofeidian plant stands as a reminder that their days are numbered.

    In a surprise move, China ordered more than 2,000 steel, cement and other energy-intensive factories be shut down by the end of September. The heavy-handed decree offers evidence that the central government is serious about abolishing its inefficient, power-hungry factories, despite the potential to hinder economic growth and create a backlash from powerful local officials.

    The unprecedented order is aimed at reducing China’s energy consumption and its growing reliance on foreign oil as well as shifting its booming economy toward modern production methods that are less harmful to the environment. While lifting hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, China’s economic ascendance has also caused major ecological damage that the government hopes to contain in order to set the stage for the country’s next phase of development.

  14. Attention Congress: China is shutting down its old coal plants

    Certain members of the U.S. Congress believe that America shouldn’t do anything about climate change until China does. Putting aside the moral illogic of that position, let’s focus on something China is doing: shutting down old, dirty coal plants. Surely once senators find out about this they’ll be eager to follow suit!

    The Chinese government recently finished its latest five-year plan, part of which is a series of measures meant to address air pollution [PDF]. The measures are described in … are you ready for this? … “Notice of the General Office of the State Council about Forwarding Guiding Opinions on Pushing Forward the Joint Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution to Improve the Regional Air Quality Developed by the Ministry of Environment Protection and Relevant Departments,” or NGOSCFGOPFJPCAPIRAQDMEPRD for short. It was approved by the State Council, China’s highest level of government, on May 11.

    The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection is working on implementing the measures.

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