A new report by China expert Patrician Adams for the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is under intense international pressure to reduce its use of fossil fuels. Although China’s leaders aim to reduce the country’s fossil-fuel consumption to 80% of its energy mix by 2030, they will not for- sake national economic growth for the supposed global good. This is because China’s Communist Party knows that to stay in power – its highest priority – it must maintain the economic growth rates that have raised the incomes of much of its population and kept opposition at bay. China’s leaders know that GDP growth is tied to fossil- fuel use.
China’s government is also under intense domestic pressure to clean up its air pollution, which has made air unbreathable in many cities and has become a major flashpoint for political unrest. China’s air pollution is estimated to kill at least half a million people each year.
In an attempt to induce China to join global efforts to curtail carbon at the up- coming UN conference in Paris in December, President Obama and others argue that China’s abysmal air quality will improve if it cuts its carbon dioxide emissions.
The opposite is true. Not only do the goals of reducing carbon emissions and air pollution not reinforce each other, they conflict. Carbon dioxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that does not harm health. Efforts to reduce it rely on unproven abatement technologies, and are prohibitively expensive. In contrast, abating air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide rely on proven technologies and are relatively inexpensive.
The West’s climate change establishment is worried that if Beijing focuses ‘nar- rowly’ on eliminating the air pollutants that worry the general population, China will entrench cleaner-burning fossil fuels in its economy, costing the West its leverage over China’s energy policies. Yet the Chinese public is unlikely to tolerate a ‘carbon-first’ abatement strategy while it continues to breathe noxious air.
The apparent contradiction between what the West wants and what China’s lead- ership needs is easily resolved. China’s leadership knows that what China says to the West is more important than what China does, absolving it of the need to make any binding commitment to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. China also knows that Western leaders’ have no firm expectation of concrete commitments in Paris. Rather, their paramount goal is to maintain face at the Paris talks, which would collapse without China’s presence.
China is deftly preparing the stage in Paris to position itself as the Third World’s defender and also as a recipient of the billions in climate aid that it is demanding from the West. We can expect more announcements, agreements, and soaring rhetoric from global politicians at the Paris Conference, along with an agreement to meet again next year. What we cannot expect are reforms designed to reduce China’s carbon emissions.