Chinese President Hu Jintao left the G-8 summit before the international conference had tackled the issue of climate change. He was needed at home as violence raged in Xinjiang province as the Uighur protested against being made a minority in their own land by Beijing policy. There was much wailing in the media that the absence of China's leader made it more difficult to reach a global agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The problem, however, is China's position in talks with the G-8, not who is presenting it.
China wants to explore alternate energy sources, but for reasons economic not environmental. China would like to reduce urban pollution for health reasons, but not at the cost of growth. The bottom line is that Beijing does not accept the global warming thesis, but will exploit the phobia among Western liberals to gain a competitive advantage for the Chinese economy.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet in December at Copenhagen to draft a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty. The "roadmap" to this treaty was set at Bali in 2007. While developed lands like the United States are to have "quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives," the developing states are allowed to temper any such actions within "the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building." The double standard allows China, India, and others developing nations to provide safe havens for high emission industries, both domestic and those "outsourced" from developed countries which enact uneconomical Green regulations.
The diplomatic term is "differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" as used in the July, 2008 G-8 Tokyo summit. Even with this double standard, the developing countries objected to the G-8 goal set last year of cutting by half world carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa (known as the Group of 5 or O-5) issued a statement declaring their split with the G-8 (United States, Japan, Russia, Canada, Italy, Germany, France, and United Kingdom). They rejected the notion that all should share in the 50 percent target, asserting that the "wealthier" countries have created most of the alleged environmental damage. "It is essential that developed countries take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emissions reductions," said the O-5 statement. President Hu Jintao went further, saying "China's central task now is to develop the economy and make life better for the people,"
During a trip to Washington in March, Li Gao, Director of Climate Change at Beijing's National Development and Reform Commission, insisted that China's export sector be exempt from carbon emissions reductions in any post-Kyoto agreement. At the Bonn UNFCCC conference in June, Chinese diplomats stated that their country's emissions would actually be going up in future years as economic expansion continued. Chinese export industries accounted for half or more of the country's surge in carbon dioxide emissions since 2002, making China the world's number one emitter. Chinese manufacturing produces a carbon footprint two to five times the size of comparable American-based industries.
Yet, at Bonn, China demanded that the "rich" industrialized nations cut their emissions by 40 percent by 2020 from the 1990 level. Beijing denounced Japan's plan to cut its emission 15 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, saying it "clearly falls short" of what is demanded by "the international community." The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill which passed narrowly in the U.S. House calls for only a 17 percent cut by 2020, but would be extremely expensive to implement with direr negative impacts on economic growth and American living standards. The higher UN goals would be truly devastating to the West, and would shift the world balance of wealth and power towards the rising states of China, India and the rest.
In a vain attempt to satisfy the developing nations within the principle of "differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" the G-8 pledged at L'Aquila to cut their emissions by 80 percent to reach the 50 percent global reduction goal. This means the underdeveloped countries could make cuts well below the average. Yet, the developing nations were having none of it. Their future prosperity and security depends on continued economic progress and they will not endanger it. As a result the efforts of the G-8 made no impact on the position staked out a year ago by the O-5.
On July 8, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who attended the outreach session of the G-8 Summit on behalf of the absent Hu Jintao, spoke to the O-5 delegations. He demanded that the international community "respect the right of developing countries to independent economic development, take into full account the specific national conditions of developing countries, and ensure that developing countries enjoy necessary room for development policies." In other words, they should not be constrained by Green regulations. In direct reference to the UNFCCC and the upcoming Copenhagen conference, Dai urged continued adherence "to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities." He then called "on countries around the world to take active actions in accordance with the Bali Roadmap, and urge developed countries to make an explicit commitment to continuing taking the lead in emissions reductions and providing developing countries with measurable, reportable and verifiable support in technology, funding and capacity building." An explicit program for an international transfer of wealth.
The real peril is that President Barack Obama will unilaterally commit the United States to crippling Green standards under cap-and-trade legislation (or EPA regulation), cemented in place by a post-Kyoto UN treaty. He will then try to bring China on board through a policy of "engagement" which Beijing will ignore. The result will be that the Chinese economy will continue to expand while the American economy will stagnate.
Beijing's position is the proper one to take. Washington should worry less about fanciful notions of global climate change and more about the reality of global economic change if America is to have a secure and prosperous future.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.