Global Warming Crisis: China Gets It
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
In Tianjin, China, this week, 3,000 participants from 176 nations are meeting to prepare for the United Nations annual Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The two-week event is slated this year for November 29 to December 10 in Cancun, Mexico.
Compared to the cost and sheer hugeness of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, this conference is small potatoes. But in terms of China’s stature in the world where it really counts, hosting the Tianjin climate talks is a Very Big Deal. And it gives reason to hope that the US Congress, unwilling to be outdone by the world’s second largest economy, will finally come to grips with the fact of global warming and take the kinds of actions that will ultimately lead to a reversal of the current trend toward making our planet uninhabitable.
Despite having assumed much of the $5 million cost of the conference, China , which last summer passed the US as the world’s largest energy consumer, seemed reluctant to make a spectacle of itself. Writing in Switchboard, the National Resources Defense Council’s staff blog, Barbara Finamore said,
National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua, himself a native of Tianjin, deflected any suggestion that China was hosting the talks in order to push its own agenda or showcase the actions it is taking to fulfill its carbon reduction commitments. “China is just the host,” he said, to questions by reporters mid-day.
But, Finamore adds,
there are major areas where China is leading the world in addressing climate change, and the United States and others would be wise to take heed of its example.
For instance, in 2009 China led the world in money invested in clean energy. It installed more wind power turbines than the US in 2009, and will outstrip the second largest economy again in 2010. China’s policies, projects, and incentives now make it the global leader in ameliorating global warming.
Relative to the size of its economy, the United States’ clean energy finance and investments lag behind many of its G-20 partners. For example, in relative terms, Spain invested five times more than the United States last year, and China, Brazil and the United Kingdom invested three times more. In all, 10 G-20 members devoted a greater percentage of gross domestic product to clean energy than the United States in 2009. Finally, the Unites States is on the verge of losing its leadership position in installed renewable energy capacity, with China surging in the last several years to a virtual tie.
This lag isn’t just a matter of deficient moral leadership. If it were, American corporations might well choose the low road in deference to the almighty dollar. It’s also a matter of leadership in technology, hence in new jobs. Great Britain’s investment in offshore wind generation is expected to generate 70,000 new jobs by 2020. Even sooner, in 2012, the wind industry is expected to have a million jobs to fill worldwide.
If the US wants a piece of that pie, Congress is going to have to get cracking, and soon. The private sector will not assume the entire cost, or the entire risk, especially with Congressional leaders from a certain political party insisting that climate change is a liberal hoax.
What the US and China, the two largest polluters, most have in common is a reluctance to set a binding global limit on carbon emissions, while other nations seem to want to achieve that goal. At last year’s conference in Copenhagen, negotiators from 28 countries that are responsible for 80 percent of carbon emissions developed an agreement that nations should limit emissions enough to keep the rise in global temperature to less than 2 degrees C (3.8 F). That’s a start, but not a very comfortable one.
It’s hard for those of us on the outside to tolerate, but without the big nations swinging big sticks, progress is going to be unbearably slow. The 2011 conference is in South Africa and 2012 will see the negotiators in South Korea. Perhaps if they met in July within four degrees of the Equator, things would move faster.