It’s good to be back. Some recent bits of news on China and climate caught my attention. First was Todd Stern’s admonition in Tuesday’s FT that China and India risk protectionist measures in the U.S. Congress if they do not agree to bind themselves in Copenhagen to curb carbon emissions.
Politically, this is certainly true. But it made me wonder whether tactically we should decouple China and India on climate in the run up to the negotiations in Copenhagen. Todd Stern has forgotten more about these issues than I will ever know, and, of course, in the long run we absolutely need all the major economies on board. Emissions from India and Russia could potentially catch up to China’s one day.
But, today, the real problem (other than us) is China. That fact is reinforced by a two-year study conducted by Chinese government thinktanks, released Wednesday, that said if China’s energy usage structure remains unchanged, its emissions of greenhouse gases would represent 60 percent of total global emissions and three times China’s current production. Of course, China’s usage IS changing, and that’s the encouraging news. China is massively investing in clean and efficient technologies.
That said, China is the largest emitter in the world and will be for some time to come. The U.S. and China account for about 20 percent each of global emissions and India is currently only at 5 percent. A 2006 study [PDF] from the Department of Energy has that disparity continuing until 2030. Even if India catches up, much faster, or China slows its emissions growth dramatically, China will still a much bigger part of the problem well into the future.
Moreover, the critical political point for today is that the largest emitter, China, has refused to commit to binding targets at Copenhagen for reducing its emissions. Without that commitment, the international community can’t forge a deal. Lumping India and China together offers China political cover in the negotiations. It reinforces China’s strategy of aligning itself with truly poor developing countries, like, say, Chad, that really cannot be asked to bear the costs of climate change. Further, while the Chinese government can likely deliver on an international commitment, its not clear that the Indian government currently has the capacity.
Right now, it may make sense to isolate China as a unique case. Particularly when by China’s own measure this week, it is no longer a low-income country, but a middle income one. I am not suggesting bilateral negotiations — the current set of mechanisms is fine. And we need the other emerging economies signed onto any treaty with as good a commitment as possible. But pressure where pressure is due — the real challenge of the coming months is the PRC.
– Nina Hachigian