Friday, December 14, 2007

Chinese carbon emissions - or ours?

Why should we bother about climate change when China doesn't? Because China uses our hipocrisy - and failure to act - as an excuse for its own inaction.

In this country many people say: "What does it matter what we do about climate change in the UK - our actions are dwarfed by China's emissions!"

After all, China’s annual coal production is set to double to a staggering 5 billion tonnes a year by 2030. It is also planning to move 400 million people from the country into cities over the next 30 years. Over this period it will build approximately half the new buildings in the world, and Chinese buildings are currently only a third as energy efficient as Europe's.

China is therefore key to the success of the current climate talks.

But China argues that its per capita carbon dioxide emission is much less than that of the United States and European countries, (according to Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology of China yesterday).

Wan Gang said his country has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 20 percent per unit of GDP during 2006-2010. But this is clearly not enough. The atmosphere cannot cope with the output of two new coal burning power stations every week for years, which China is currently building.

So is there no point in doing anything here? Yes of course, and here is one reason why: in the press release on the Chinese government's web site, announcing Wan Gang's speech, the first link below the text, under the heading " Correlative Article" is a link to the report I discussed yesterday that UK emissions have "risen by one fifth".

The Chinese government appears to be saying by putting the link here - "Put your own house in order, you developed countries - practice what you so loudly preach - before you tell us that we can't give our people the same quality of life that yours have."

But hold on. A big rise in our emissions is really because we're buying more goods from cheap sources like China.

And the Chinese love this. Here's a glimpse of the future: China is investing $30bn in a 100 square kilometre site to build the Beijing Cyber Recreation Project. Among other things this will house the infrastructure (computer server farms, electricity-generation, online banking links, transport logistics etc.) to host nine or ten virtual worlds, that will be used to direct market Chinese goods to the rest of the world. Think 3-D Amazon and more.

This will enable China - avoiding UK retail outlets and distributors - to recoup 100% of the retail price of its products. The project's chief scientist, Chi Tau Robert Lai, said that the aim was to cut out the middlemen. "A shirt made in China for £1 typically sells for £20 in Europe. We have a big manufacturing capacity." No kidding. Just imagine what that will do to British high streets, not to mention air freight impacts.

Logic therefore implies that even without the climate change imperative, Britain and Europe need to act now to protect themselves from this threat to their retail industry by becoming less reliant on goods from the far east.

Meanwhile, Wan Gang, China IS, in fact, one of the reasons why UK emissions are increasing. Perhaps you should not have posted that link on your press release after all.

And perhaps you should accept the many reasons which delegates at Bali are giving you, as to why it makes sense for China to sign up to ambitious climate-heating gas reduction targets.

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