The author of this piece, Robyn Meredith, did a really good job capturing the nuances and contradictions that are going to come up this fall and winter.
Image from treehugger.com
China has just laid out its negotiating position for the upcoming summit in Copenhagen, where diplomats will gather in December to try to hammer out an agreement on how to battle climate change.
The West is not going to like it. Essentially, China will argue that Western consumers buying Chinese-made goods should pay their fair share of the cost of cutting the pollution used to make the goods.
West and East have been arguing for years about who is to blame for climate change and how to cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Broadly speaking, developed countries like the U.S. have looked with alarm at the fast increase of pollution in the East and insisted that nations like China and India must save the planet by acting quickly to curb pollution.
Developing nations have cried foul, arguing that cutting pollution levels would unacceptably slow down their economic development, keeping tens of millions of people mired in poverty. They argue that the West was allowed to pollute during its period of industrialization, and that they should be allowed to do the same. They say it would be unfair to penalize poor countries when richer Americans and Europeans consume far more energy than Asians do on a per-capita basis.
Fan and his colleagues lay out a common-sense approach to determining responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and use a complex formula based on accumulated emissions from 1950 to 2005 to quantify how much responsibility, in China's view, each nation should shoulder. Their reasoning? "The production is because of consumption, the supply is because of demand, the export is because someone wants to import," according to their August study, "The Low Carbon Development: China and the World." Fan is director of China's National Economic Research Institute.
Using their calculations, China's share of the burden is tiny, despite the fact that China will be the world's biggest polluter by year-end. The U.S. bears the biggest responsibility, with the 27-member European Union just behind the U.S.
The leader of the U.S. delegation at the talks, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam, said after hearing the Chinese presentation, "I'm very pessimistic on the outcome of the Copenhagen talks." He felt negotiators should take a pragmatic approach that allows for climate improvement, rather than holding out for a comprehensive deal. U.S. negotiators should only agree to what the U.S. Senate will accept, Dam said, to avoid torpedoing any agreement reached in Copenhagen.
China is, in fact, producing goods for the rest of the world. Sure, it's growing quickly and consumption is definitely increasing throughout the country (see the sprawl of shopping malls in any major city as evidence), yet its standard of living is nowhere near what the west's is or has been. China, I think rightly, doesn't believe that it should be fully-burdened for filling Wal-Mart's shelves with goods. The end user of a lot of China's products, and the pollution that chokes China, are Americans and others in the west.
At the same time, I can see why the US doesn't want to let China's pollution and carbon release get out-of-hand. A China that is completely oblivious to its affect on climate change doesn't sound like a good or tenable position to take.
I'm not sure what the middle ground is or could be on these negotiations. Both sides are just going to have to end up compromising.
Considering how polarized things are, both in American and world politics, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see gridlock and nothing significant happen at this critical juncture in human history. That would be sad.