China, Climate Change and the US Position

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) which contribute to climate change.  But, China has refused to enter into international agreements capping its GHGs - basically because it doesn’t want to be bound by any agreement that potentially limits the expansion of its economy.  However, the nation is taking steps to limit those emissions by shutting down polluting plants and installing cleaner equipment.

And on a limited trial basis, it has also done so and still managed to grow its economy.  But if China is reluctant to enter into an international agreement, why is it attempting to reduce its GHGs?  Are its actions driven by the country’s belief that something needs to be done about climate change?  I don’t believe so.  Economic and energy security are the primary drivers.  China—which imports a majority of its coal and oil-- sees a long-term threat to its resource supply and has begun focusing on alternatives for reasons of energy security.  By diversifying the mix, and including renewables, which are a domestic product, you create stability of supply (and also reduce GHG emissions).  China has also realized the potential for the green economy and desires to capitalize on the market by creating a subsidized manufacturing base which produces cleantech that it can export to the rest of the world, particularly the US. 

The United States itself has been reluctant to enter into an international agreement or even a domestic arrangement fearing the effects on its economy relative to other nations, unless China was to likewise do so.  GHGs, after all, are global.  The argument has been made that the US shouldn’t hamstring its economy if China doesn’t likewise bind its.  End result: stalemate.  But with EPA regulations of GHG coming in just over 3 months, the US finds itself in an awkward position of contemplating adopting cap-and-trade in order to make restrictions easier to manage.  But the news isn’t all bad:  cap-and-trade is expected to have little negative effect on the economy and may even wind up being beneficial

The US therefore, like China, should view the problem not as one of climate change (because as we’ve found out that’s a tough sell for a concept that, for many, is still vague and distant), but as one of stimulating the economy and ensuring energy security that can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and balance out our generation portfolio, much like the Chinese position.