Friday, May 22, 2009

Climate Change Rhetoric

Talks before Copenhagen's Climate Change Conference later this year are continuing to heat up.

From The Wall St. Journal:

China, in a new document outlining its stance ahead of December climate talks in Copenhagen, says it wants developed nations to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020 from 1990 levels. But that is a far more aggressive cut than the level proposed in the U.S.'s Waxman-Markey bill. Europe, in turn, has pledged to cut emissions by at least 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels, and by 30% if other advanced economies follow suit.

The divergent views come as negotiations begin in earnest for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012. China's 40% target represents the high end of cuts in emissions mentioned in the 2007 Bali road map, which stopped short of endorsing a specific target.

China is also asking rich countries to donate at least 0.5% to 1% of annual gross domestic product to help poorer countries cope with climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions, it said in the document, which was posted on the Web site of the National Development and Reform Commission, its economic policy-making body.

China has resisted any mandatory quotas on carbon emissions. The country is widely considered to have surpassed the U.S. as the world's top polluter.

Read On
So China is really playing the developing nation card here and calling upon richer nations to help out those not at a high-level of economic development yet though.

Somewhat surprisingly, China appears to be walking the walk and not simply talking the talk on this issue.

From The New York Times:
China's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions are "impressive" and are often underestimated in the United States, President Obama's top climate change ambassador said yesterday.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told E&E that when major economies meet in Paris on climate change next week, they will try to bridge the gap between ambitious domestic energy agendas in some emerging nations like China and the seemingly unyielding negotiating positions that developing countries take to the U.N. global warming talks.

"If you look at what a country like China is actually doing with respect to climate change, it's quite significant," Stern said. "It's quite impressive in many ways."

China and the United States are the world's biggest global warming polluters, accounting for 47 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- to which the United States is not a party -- requires only industrialized countries to make cuts. So far, neither America nor China has been willing to reduce emissions before the other.

Advocates for a new global climate treaty in Copenhagen this year say an agreement between China and the United States is critical. Chinese negotiators, meanwhile, have remained firm in insisting that industrialized countries act first and that developing nations not be forced to make legally binding commitments.

Still, Stern said he believes Americans often wrongly assume China is not acting on climate change at all.

"In fact, they have a 20 percent energy intensity goal, they've got a significant renewable energy goal, and they've got an auto standard that is about where our brand-new ones are," Stern said, referring to the Obama administration's proposed new fuel efficiency targets of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

"It's clearly not enough," he said, but added, "they've got a lot of things going on."

Read On
I suppose there might some kind of politicking behind these comments, but the reason why Stern would give false praise to the Chinese isn't abundantly clear to me. Stern may very well just be stating what he really believes or is observing.

Combatting climate change and carbon emissions seems like a great economic opportunity in addition to being the responsible thing to do. It would not be surprising to me if China and the US were to embrace fighting climate change for economic reasons more than anything else.

Developing clean energy resources could be a great way to innovate one's country out of recession. Becoming less reliant on oil, its fluxuating prices, and the shady countries that provide much of it would also be a very noble and practical goal.

Whether the adoption of an agreement to reduce carbon emissions by China, the US, and the rest of the world happens because of attempts to cultivate new economic opportunities or because of genuine concern for the environment doesn't matter too much to me. As long as some kind of action is taken, that is enough for me.


Ramesh said...

A really tough area. How do we balance the developmental needs of the poor in countries like India and China, with the absolute need for containing carbon emissions. Not an easy trade off - for it is a tradeoff in most cases. I feel this will be a perpetual conflict unless science can find a way to make it not "either/or".

Mark said...

I know what you mean, Ramesh.

I see the hypocricy in an American saying to the rest of the world, "You guys need to be carbon conscious and you need to grown in a clean fashion." America, without a shadow of a doubt, has wreaked havoc on the planet's ecosystem more than any other country in history.

There is a South Park episode from, I believe, season three that points out this kind of American hypocrisy really well. That episode is about US hippies wanting to save the rainforest in Central America. While about a slightly different topic than India and China's growth, the idea is basically the same:

How does America have the write to dictate to others how they should develop and what they have the right to do?

I agree that this is a slippery slope and a rather dangerous one to walk down.

Of course, if we are to believe a great majority of the rhetoric surrounding climate change and human involvement in the activity, then not changing the ways of the past or being proactive in this regard can be seen as troubling.

I'd like to see science step up and do, as Ramesh says, not make this an "either/or" situation. Working towards eliminating the either/or situation would be one of the grandest achievements in human history.

Hopefully we can have this in the next couple decades. Who knows, maybe the current financial disaster will be the impetus for this kind of innovation.

But at the moment, it seems to me like we are a ways away from solving this carbon/energy problem.