Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More mixed messages on climate as NPC Continues

Given the importance of China's annual National People's Congress (NPC), it's worth expanding on yesterday's post to cover a few other signs of the direction China's climate policy will take in the coming year.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told the NPC that China will continue its efforts to increase energy efficiency, thereby decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, Wen said, ""We will implement energy-conserving measures for power generators, boilers, automobiles, air-conditioners and lighting products" (see Xinhua). The official English-language news article covering Wen's speech also carried quotations from several government officials vowing that environmental protection efforts will continue despite the economic crisis.

A China Daily editorial painted a similarly robust picture of China's efforts to reduce emissions, gushing that

Reducing carbon emissions by weaning industries off oil will not only "green the globe" but also spur growth, spark an employment boom and help combat climate change. And China is best poised to not only effect the new deal but also to reap the benefits of it.

The editorial even gave a nod to the positive atmosphere surrounding US-China climate cooperation by claiming that "As US President Barack Obama's administration pushes for an economy that provides both economic and environmental security, China can ride and contribute to the potential lush wave of inventions and initiatives." This kind of perspective is, of course, what CGS has always pushed for.

One more positive piece of news comes from a member of China's People's Political Consultative Committee, Zhang Guobao. Zhang, noting that Obama has devoted a large portion of America's economic stimulus package to developing new energy sources, called for China should do the same. "If we continue not to take new energy seriously," Zhang warned, "I predict that in another ten years we will be in the same situation as Japan" when it comes to that country's dependency on imported energy (see Renmin Ribao, in Chinese only).

On the other side of the coin, a recent editorial in China Daily exemplifies the old "don't blame China" school of thought when it comes to climate issues. Entitled "Don't blame China for the world's eco-woes," the editorial complained that

Critics still blame China as it builds new cities with modern homes, running water, sewage systems, transport infrastructure, schools and hospitals, just as their countries did. They blame China as it serves the needs of hundreds of millions of farmers moving from the land to the cities in the biggest urbanization program in human history. No nation has ever had to do this before, and the challenges are highly complicated.

There's some truth to this complaint (see previous post), but the real tragedy is that anyone, either in China or abroad, still thinks of the climate issue as a blame game. We're all responsible for changing the planet's carbon balance (though admittedly to differing degrees), and we'll all bear the consequences. The fact is, times have changed and nobody, in China, the United States, or elsewhere, can build new cities without making them sustainable.

Nonetheless, this kind of retrograde thinking appears to be winning out when it comes to China's stance on climate. The leadership appears to be consumed with concerns over jobs, stability, and restive minorities. When it comes to the low-hanging fruit and the "general principle" of climate sustainability, Beijing appears to be committed. But when it comes to making hard decisions, and paying a price, the message appears much more mixed.

Once again, it seems to CGS that foreign leadership will be crucial. The pieces cited above all reference Washington's actions in pushing green stimulus. If America can figure out how to drive economic growth with climate-sustainable features, you can bet that there will be plenty of receptive ears at next year's NPC.

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