China’s Position on Global Warming

March 04, 2007

On Feb. 28, a blog reader, Sarah Claire, asked me the following question: I need to represent China's position on global warming for a project, what is your take on this issue?

If I were China, my take on global warming would be that it should be dealt with by the world’s developed countries. After all, the Developed World dumped all that greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Why is it China’s job to clean up a mess generated by America and Europe? In addition, the Chinese want global adoption of a per capita emission index, which leverages their enormous population to shrink apparent Chinese emission contribution compared to less-populous developed countries in the west.

The US did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol because the treaty does not curtail emissions of developing nations like China and India. While carbon trading (if done correctly) should bring economic benefit to Kyoto signatories, the US Senate worries that carbon quotas will stifle American industry.

Kyoto gives China free reign to develop as rapidly as possible with no concern for environmental impact. Had the US ratified Kyoto (so the argument goes) we would be forced to constrain economic growth within the carbon caps arising from Kyoto. China wants the US in Kyoto: it gives them a way to catch up in economic development.

Despite advantages afforded to China by the current incarnation of the Kyoto Protocol, the Chinese cannot be blind to the impacts of pollution and global warming. As China modernizes, its citizens will demand health care to mitigate pollution-induced illness. If global warming is real, China will discover its coastal cities disappearing under the ocean. Furthermore, China is working to convince the world that it is a modern country and can produce high-technology goods better than America or Japan. Part of being modern is demonstrating global stewardship. The Chinese will want to get in on the economic and technology-development action afforded by carbon trading.

China, therefore, has three major incentives to develop strong global warming policy: 1) leveraging the US to adopt Kyoto to slow our economic development, 2) fostering international perception of global stewardship as well as protecting Chinese assets from global-warming-induced disasters, and 3) capitalizing upon the economic benefits of carbon trading.

I predict that in the next 10 years, China will return to the Kyoto bargaining table asking to be moved into Annex I (developed countries subject to carbon restrictions but entitled to carbon trading). When China feels its economic growth puts it within striking distance of the US economy and when it can leverage enough international pressure to force America to ratify Kyoto, we will see emergence of strong global warming policy in China.

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