Debate over China's economic responsibilities for climate change mitigation

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This article documents the debate over China's economic responsibilities for climate change mitigation and mitigation of climate change in China.

Both internationally and within the People's Republic of China, there has been an ongoing debate over China's responsibilities, particularly since 2006, when China surpassed the US as the country with the highest emissions rate for the main atmospheric gas in global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2) [1]

The pros and cons[edit]

The experts who argue (as detailed below) that China should be spending more of its resources on mitigation, point out China's total emissions, the criticisms it has received from other developing nations and from its own citizens, the toll of pollution on China's gross domestic product (GDP), the lack of regulations strong enough to have an effect, the cumbersome delegation of responsibility for pollution problems, and China's refusal to commit to an emissions cap.

Experts who argue (as detailed below) that China should not be spending more, assert out that China is doing the most possible with its limited resources[citation needed]; they cite its low per capita emissions, the world-class scale of some of its mitigation efforts, its success at keeping emissions growth significantly less than GDP growth, the significant chunk of China's emissions that are created by multinational businesses in China, the opposition from its own provincial and local officials to carrying out the environmental regulations, the short time-length of China's CO2 emissions compared to the 200-year history of the industrialized nations' emissions, and the hypocrisy of criticizing China for attempting to catch up with the West through the same CO2-emitting practices with which the West developed.

The 'pros': China should be spending more of its resources[edit]

Highest total emissions[edit]

In 2006, China's (including Taiwan) CO2 emissions surpassed those of the US by 8%, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.[2] Compared to the previous year, China's total emissions increased by 9% (to 6.2 billion tons of CO2), while emissions in the US decreased by 1.4% (to 5.8 billion), compared to the previous year,.[3][4] China's increasing rate of CO2 emissions is heading toward a 50-100% increase above the current world total for CO2 emissions, by 20 years from now. The scientists warn that if China continues to increase its GDP at a rate of at least 7% per year, it will by then be emitting as much CO2 per year as the whole world emitted in 2007, -- 8 gigatons per year.[5]

Other developing nations are critical[edit]

Small island nations see China as among the developed countries in terms of China's responsibility to reduce emissions, particularly since it is the small island nations, and not China, that are most immediate risk from the effects of global warming.[6] They are aware as well that it is the world's poorest nations that will suffer most in the long run.[7]

Internal dissent in China[edit]

There is pressure on the Chinese government from within China as well. "Citizen complaints about the environment, expressed on official hotlines and in letters to local officials, were increasing at a rate of 30% a year in 2006," and were projected to top 450,000 in 2007.[8] Since presenting their first joint statement on the Kyoto Protocol in Bali in December 2007, Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in cooperation with international NGOs, have been assuming a more prominent role in efforts to mitigate climate change within China. NGO activity in China, however, remains restricted by tight government controls.[9]

The toll on GDP[edit]

A federal financial auditing project—the 'Green GDP' -- has focused on the economic losses incurred by pollution. Begun in 2004 to incorporate the externalities of previously unaccounted-for environmental costs, the project soon produced results that were so much worse than anticipated that the program was quietly tabled in 2007.[3]

The fines for violating CO2-mitigating regulations are too low[edit]

Firms facing the choice of either paying a given fine for their effluence into community streams, or spending ten times as much on waste treatment, usually opt to pay the fine and continue polluting.[10] Provincial officials themselves complain that the fines are too low to enable them to enforce the federal regulations.[11]

Poor delegation of authority[edit]

The problem of ineffectual fines is compounded by the cumbersome delegation of authority over CO2-related issues. For instance, while water pollution as a problem is the responsibility of SEPA (China's equivalent of the United States Environmental Protection Agency), the water itself, in its specific functions or locations, comes under the control of three other separate ministries: Ministry of Construction (deals with sewage), Ministry of Land and Resources (controls groundwater), and Ministry of Water Resources (manages water in general).[3]

Indeed, the environmental damage in China is already costing its economy about 10% of its GDP,[12] and is costing that in spite of the millions in venture capital invested in China by foreign firms for mitigation projects under the Clean Development Mechanism.[13]

China refuses a cap on CO2[edit]

Finally, critics point out that even though China bests the US by being a signer to the Kyoto Protocol (since the US is not), China signed under an agreement that developing nations would not be required to reduce their emissions.[14]

The 'cons': China should not be spending more of its resources[edit]

The large scale of current mitigation[edit]

New apartment buildings in Hubei are commonly equipped with solar water heaters

As of 2008, China's per capita emissions of CO2 were still one-quarter that of the US,.[14][15] Though China continues to build emissions-intensive coal-fired power plants, its "rate of development of renewable energy is even faster".[5]

There is great interest in solar power in China. The world's market share of China's photovoltaic units manufacturers had grown from approximately 1% in 2003 to 18% in 2007,[16] one of the largest Chinese manufacturers of these devices being the wholly Chinese solar company (Suntech).[17] Although the overwhelming majority of the photovoltaic units are exported, plans are under to increase the installed capacity to at least 1,800 MW by 2020.[18] Some officials expect the plans to be significantly over-fulfilled, the installed capacity reaching possibly as much as 10,000 megawatt by 2020.[18]

Due to the growing demand for photovoltaic electricity, more companies such as Aleo Solar, Global Solar, Anwell,[19] CMC Magnetics,etc. entered into this market and lower cost of PV cells would be expected.

Solar water heating is already used extensively throughout the country.[20]

China also has embarked upon a 9 million acre (36,000 km2) reforestation project—the Green Wall of China—that may become the largest ecological project in history; it's projected to be finished by 2050 at a cost of $8 billion.[3] China has 5 major eco-cities in construction or completed. The capital city has, as well, car regulations more stringent than those in the US.[14]

Keeping emissions growth at less than GDP growth[edit]

Considering that energy consumption in most developed countries has usually grown faster than GDP during the early stages of industrialization, it is to China's credit that while its GDP has grown by 9.5% per year over the last 27 years, its CO2 emissions have increased by only about 5.4% per year,[5][15] meaning that its carbon intensity (its carbon emissions per unit of GDP) has decreased during that time, though it remains the among the highest of any of the developed or developing nations.

Emissions contributed by multinationals in China[edit]

Chinese officials claim that they are doing a great deal that is often not visible, especially for a country as large, populous, and (rurally) undeveloped as it is. But working against that, and equally non-visible, is the role of multinational ventures in China in contributing to its emissions. It has been estimated that as of 2004, almost a quarter (23%) of China's CO2 emissions were coming from Chinese-made products destined for the West, providing an interesting perspective on China's large trade surplus. Another study shown that around 1/3 emissions from China in 2005 are due to exports.[21] Over half of those emissions driven by demand from the West are from transnationals taking advantage of China's developmental policies favouring heavy manufacturing over regions with more developed environmental laws and enforcement. This includes many of the WalMart-suppliers and other foreign-owned factories that stock department store shelves, particularly in the US,.[14][22]

China points out that it is being punished for having become "the place where the US effectively outsources much of its pollution,[14]" and has buttressed its call for joint international responsibility for at least part of China's emissions, by making public, in Jan 2008, Multinationals committed 130 violations of Chinese environmental law.[23]

Opposition from provincial and local officials[edit]

However, officials in Beijing cite violations by China's own companies as well—in this case, to illustrate the enormity of the task in front of them in getting compliance for environmental regulations which they see as very progressive. Regional and local officials have been taken to task for this.

For example, in 2006, Premier Wen Jiabao issued a warning to local officials to shut down some of the plants in the most energy-intensive industries, designating at least six industries for slow-down. The following year, those same industries posted a 20.6% increase in output.[24] In 2006 as well, the federal government began banning logging in some locations in order to expand its protection of forests, and at the same time restricted the size of cities and golf courses in order to increase land use efficiency. Yet many of the local officials responsible for carrying out the new regulations essentially ignored them.[3]

Why, one might ask, is a strong central government such as China's not able to control maverick local and regional officials? The problem may have something to do with the fact that China's top environmental agency—the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has barely one-hundredth the number of employees as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, while attempting to enforce regulations over a similarly sized but much more populated land mass than the US.[14]

Another reason for lack of compliance is apparently because local governments now have a chunk of funding for which they are not beholden to the central government, and are motivated to protect those funding sources which pollute, but pollute profitably.[17]

As a result, SEPA's attempt to use local banks as a means of discouraging companies from carbon-intensive practices has followed a troubled path. Many local governments that have officially implemented the 'Green Credit' policy of loaning only to companies with green practices continue also to protect polluting firms that are profitable, and the banks in some provinces have yet to apply the policy at all.[25]

China is following the example of developed nations[edit]

Unlike their counterparts in many other countries, many Chinese commuters opt for electric bicycles and electric scooters, rather than vehicles with internal combustion engines

Given all the above, it's perhaps not surprising that China's leadership turns to the US and international bodies to press for funding and understanding in its struggle to reduce emissions—since "developing countries need room to develop"—and protest that China cannot tackle global warming to the West's satisfaction with its huge population. They worry as well that China would end up suffering a slowdown in economic growth that would result in "massive unemployment and social unrest".[6][26][27] To the Chinese, it appears ironic at best that China is being criticized for following the practice of 'pollute first, clean up later' that the Western nations themselves followed during their early stages of capital accumulation.[28]

China is collaborating with developed nations[edit]

"According to , The Seattle Post Intelligencer, the United States signed an agreement with Chinese leaders to form the U.S-China Clean Energy Forum, a private-sector process to accelerate cooperation between the two countries." This agreement means that China is joining forces with the United States to find ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions. "So far The Seattle Post Intelligencer says,China already has combined market clout to help reduce the cost premium to adopt clean technologies." A developed country like the United States would help China fund projects. .[29]

China's short history of emissions versus the industrialized nations' long history[edit]

Chinese officials argue that China has been contributing to global warming for only 30 years, while the developed countries have been doing so for 200 years. And since pollution-flagrant early stages of industrialization may have contributed to what China sees as a lack of balance of power particularly between the US and China,[30] many Chinese officials see global warming mitigation as creating an economic burden that slows its economy and further exacerbates the unequal balance of power.[31]

Chinese officials point out that the highest per capita emissions have long been and still are in the developed countries, not in China,[32] and that about 77% of the greenhouse gas emissions prior to 2000 were created by the already developed nations.[6] This implies that it is the developed nations who should shoulder a comparable portion of the global cost for reversing the world's emissions.

The lack of a cap on emissions is shared by many[edit]

Finally, the provision by which China signed the Kyoto Protocol without committing to a cap was the same provision given to all developing nation signers.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2010-12-11. [dead link]
  2. ^ http://www.mnp.nl/en
  3. ^ a b c d e Environmental issues in the People's Republic of China
  4. ^ 2emissionsUSAinsecondposition.html China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position[dead link]
  5. ^ a b c China's Climate Change Challenge Is Also the World's[dead link]
  6. ^ a b c Malini Mehra (2007-12-03). "Time to stop the climate blame game". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  7. ^ "Poorest 'in climate front line'". BBC News. 2007-11-27. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  8. ^ Toxic cost of China's success - Times Online[dead link]
  9. ^ Schröder, Miriam; Melanie Müller (2009). "Chinese paths to climate protection". Development and Cooperation (Frankfurt am Main: Societäts-Verlag) 36 (1): 28–30. 
  10. ^ Liu, Juliana (2007-09-18). "Can China make the polluter pay?". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  11. ^ "China reports | "on the Beijing-Guangzhou fine pollution problem a different view"". webcache.googleusercontent.com. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  12. ^ "Most Chinese Support Green GDP Calculation". China.org.cn. 2007-08-01. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  13. ^ China's great green leap forward? | Geoff Mulgan - Times Online[dead link]
  14. ^ a b c d e f China's great green leap forward?[dead link]
  15. ^ a b c "SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Climate Change-the Chinese Challenge - Zeng et al. 319 (5864): 730". Science (journal). Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  16. ^ Dorn, Jonathan G. "Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007". Earth Policy Institute. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  17. ^ a b "China special: The solar power king". New Scientist.com. 2007-11-07. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  18. ^ a b "China solar set to be 5 times 2020 target". Reuters. May 5, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Anwell Produces its First Thin Film Solar Panel". Solarbuzz. 2009-09-07. 
  20. ^ Biello, David (2008-08-04). "China's Big Push for Renewable Energy". SciAm. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  21. ^ "33% of China's Carbon Footprint Blamed on Exports". ABC News Abcnews.go.com. 2008-07-29. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  22. ^ Jim WatsonWang Tao (2007-12-20). "Is the west to blame for China's emissions?". Chinadialogue.net. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  23. ^ "Environmental Protection Agency announced the 130 multinational corporations environmental". webcache.googleusercontent.com. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  24. ^ Toxic cost of China' success[dead link]
  25. ^ "China green credit 'meets resistance'". Chinadialogue.net. 2008-02-13. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  26. ^ China "does not accept" caps on greenhouse gas emissions[dead link]
  27. ^ Griffiths, Daniel (2007-05-07). "China's mixed messages on climate". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  28. ^ Jiang Gaoming (2007-01-12). "The terrible cost of China's growth (part one)". Chinadialogue.net. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  29. ^ The Seattle Post-Intelligencer "U.S.-China Cooperation Would Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions." http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/363881_greenenergy21.html
  30. ^ "Chinese concern over US dominance". BBC News. 2001-05-25. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  31. ^ "Merkel presses China on climate". BBC News. 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 
  32. ^ Blanchard, Ben (2007-08-01). "China blames climate change for extreme weather". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-12-11. 

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