Sunday 6 December 2009

China, Copenhagen and climate change

Monday sees the start of the Copenhagen climate conference, marking the end of a two-year period which aims to see a far-reaching and legally binding global agreement on how to combat climate change.

China is widely regarded as the Big Bad in this scenario, called “the world's biggest polluter”, and yet the West has been belching out carbon emissions for 160 years with no serious sign of abatement. The US is still the biggest polluter per capita with Americans still consuming a huge proportion of the world’s resources. I don’t know whether the figure of one American kid consuming the same as 100 Bangladeshi children still holds true, but the nation that wants gas at ten cents a gallon and persists in its divine right to drive Humvees is telling China to shut the fridge door.

That is not to say that China isn’t storing up some massive problems for itself if things stay the same. When I was taken around China with my family in the 1970s, everyone rode bicycles and the air of the cities was pristine. Now it’s so bad that one Chinese filmmaker was telling me that she had to get out of Shanghai after three weeks because her lungs were packing up.

But, no, China is whipping boy for the failures of the developed world to sort out the mess they made. Never mind that one of the G8 group of industrialized nations is doing its best to sink any agreement. Canada is currently sitting on the planet’s second largest oil reserves which it plans to release into the markets and the atmosphere, and is the first Kyoto signatory to renege on the deal. Also implicated in these Canadian plans are Shell, BP and RBS. Our RBS.

In contrast, Chinese President Hu Jintao signaled a change in policy in September, promising a "notable" decrease in the carbon intensity of China's economy by 2020.

"At stake in the fight against climate change are the common interests of the entire world," Hu said. "Out of a sense of responsibility to its own people and people across the world, China fully appreciates the importance and urgency of addressing climate change."

Hu added that his country would plant forests across an area the size of Norway, and generate 15% of its energy needs from renewables within a decade.

China hasn’t given detailed figures as to how this will be achieved and I trust that environmentalists within and without will keep up the pressure until it does. I am, however, optimistic that China will end up leading the world in renewables technology if only for the reason that this is going to be a major global industry and fortunes stand to be made.

China has introduced a whole slew of newly released renewable energy and clean technology regulations, while all the West can come up with are delusional carbon market exchanges where rich nations buy carbon allowances from poor nations. Over five million people in the city of Dezhou, Shandong, use electric appliances powered by solar energy.

Each Chinese household will be expected to pay the annual equivalent of $64 to contribute towards the $30 billion dollars per year China needs to invest to meet its climate aims.

Let’s hope they succeed where we’ve failed. If not, China will have let us all down and helped finish the global destruction we started 160 years ago with the industrial revolution.

Ultimately, production based on need not greed is the only way out.

UK flood map here

Babeuf has just sent me the Wikipedia list of countries by carbon emissions per capita showing that Qatar is number 1, the US is number 9, and China is number 96.

UPDATE: George Monbiot on the climate change deniers.

Madam Miaow (Anna Chen) appears on BBC World Service TV tomorrow (Monday 7th December 2009) to discuss Copenhagen on "World Have Your Say" at 15:30-16:00. Also on World Service radio later in the evening. Can't watch it live in theUK but the BBC will be putting it on YouTube in a few hours, linked at The radio can be listened to on BBC iPlayer.

Sinophobia and the media following Copenhagen

Madam Miaow banned in the Guardian, Comment is Free. But speech isn't.


M@X said...

Hi there,

It's Max, you remember? We met more than a year ago on BBC Radio.

This piece is interesting. Last week in the LSE, I've attended the talk on Climate Change by Fu Ying, the Chinese ambassador to the UK. Her point was pretty much the same like yours. When talking about the per capita CO2 emission, China was only 1/4 of the US, she said, "It's like the person who had four pieces of toasts already, asks the person who is having his first piece, to go on a diet."

Anonymous said...

Looking at the picture accompanying your post would I be right to conclude that one of the consequences of global warming will be that Parliament will fill up with water and everyone inside will drown in the putrid water of the Thames?

I will buy a Hummvee first thing in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with BBC World Service TV tonight MM....

Steve said...

The BBC world debate had someone from China comment on the COP15. She said two interesting things: One was that there are still millions living in poverty, and that fossil fuels would help alleviate that and the other was that China is intent on mainstreaming the low-carbon society.

Of course, China cannot repeat the fossil-fuel driven economic expansion of OECD countries. OECD expanded in a time of increasing oil production. Try that now and the price of oil will skyrocket.

OECD is in a straitjacket of a concrete, fossil fuel dependent mindset and infrastructure that it cannot even see it is wearing.

ONE country has to take the lead, design low carbon, prosperity and then sell it to the rest. Or raise an army to keep them off your land.

Were I advising China I would say, "let OECD continue to build its concrete nightmare, you develop the low carbon model and sell it to them when they come begging - having totally lost the plot".