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I am quite excited about the UN Climate Conference happening later this year in Copenhagen. It has all the promise of the Kyoto protocol, but unlike Kyoto, Copenhagen is set in a world with an increased sense of urgency and much deeper awareness to the issues that still seemed “in the future” 11 years ago.

In an excellent summary of the Copenhagen conference’s significance, Michael McCarthy from the Independent wrote:

Three conditions, according to Britain’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, have to be fulfilled for Copenhagen to be regarded as a success. First, the wealthy industrialised countries have to agree tough new targets for cutting their C02. Second, the developing countries led by China, even if they do not take on the same sort of numerical targets, have to move away from “business as usual”. And third, the rich nations have to agree a way of financing the developing countries, especially the poorer ones, in the measures they take to adapt to the climate change that is coming anyway. Otherwise they won’t sign up to anything.

Nothing too striking about this and it brings us back to the old circular argument of the world’s second largest CO2 emitter, the US, not signing on until the world’s first largest emitter, China, gets on board. And China saying they’ll not do so until they’re offered some sort of exclusion or exception to allow them to develop (read: pollute unchecked) the same way the wealthy industrialized countries have – completely recklessly.

Everyone, outside of the Bush administration, seems to understand that the US needs to take the higher ground on this issue. Thankfully Washington’s new regime looks willing and able to at least step up to the plate.

China, however, is posing to disappoint. Rather than embrace their fast-solidifying position of Next Top Country, and surprising everyone with a forward-thinking and progressive attitude towards the conference and its potential, they’ve reverted to a “poor me” attitude and are placing the blame for their carbon dioxide emissions on importers of Chinese goods.

China’s top climate change negotiator, Li Gao, said his country should not pay for cutting emissions caused by the high demands of other countries.

Beijing argues that rich nations buying Chinese goods bear responsibility for the estimated 15-25% of China’s carbon emissions that are created by its production of exports.

“We produce products and these products are consumed by other countries, especially the developed countries. This share of emissions should be taken by the consumers but not the producers,” [Li] said.

Does anyone else feel that China’s looking to have their sweet bean-filled baozi and eat it too?

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t use that massive export industry to pave the streets of China with gold, lift millions out of poverty and fuel the country’s insane growth level; but then say everyone else is responsible for the cleanup.

What’s more is they’ve got America by the balls with their control of $740 billion worth of US treasury bonds. Now I’m no economist (a surprise to many, I’m sure), but at what point does a country that can invest the better part of a trillion dollars in another country need to owe up to the reality that they are, in fact, quite wealthy and quite capable of solving their own carbon emission problems?

The EU’s top climate negotiator (a title that, rightfully or not, brings to mind pictures of Sam Jackson shouting “You want my blood!?” from a blown out office building window) Artur Runge-Metzger said it best: asking importers to handle emissions “would mean that we would also like them to have jurisdiction and legislative powers in order to control and limit those. I’m not sure whether my Chinese colleague would agree on that particular point.”

And I dare say he wouldn’t. But maybe I’m wrong. If the rest of the world has paid for China’s rise, and is now asked to pay for cleaning up the environmental mess it caused – shouldn’t they all get a say in the domestic policies that affect what they’re paying for?


  1. China may have a point about developed countries helping to pay the freight on pollution control solutions. By exporting the manufacturing to China as a cost-cutting, profit-motivated opportunity, these countries have also caused China’s pollution levels to rise. They want cheaply manufactured goods without all the extra costs of manufacturing; ie pollution controls, labour costs, etc. China, though, does have the major responsibility for solving its pollution problems as well, after all, she accepted the manufacturing.

  2. That is indeed quite a lazy cop-out by Li Gao and the gvnmnt he represents.

    However, it would be interesting to calculate what percentage of China’s CO2 emissions could be attributed to various countries by means of the goods they imported to China. And, if it even could be calculated, i don’t think it’s too unreasonable that those countries take a slice of the emissions from those imports from China that they so clearly rely and depend on.

    Eg: you buy a computer in the UK from a famous American brand, but it was actually made in China by a Taiwanese company. The emissions from production of said laptop are, truly, entirely China’s fault? If not, who should take a cut? The UK, because you bought it there; the US, because that company got it’s product “assembled” (ie: made) in China; or Taiwan; or China because that’s where it’s physically made?

    i need a drink.

  3. I am all for China to charge for pollution, either taxing the exports directly, or tax the factories that makes these exports. Western countries better be careful about this and not promise to pay the Chinese government directly.

    Including the pollution cost in either as an export tax or indirectly raising the price of goods through taxing the factories will adjust the retail price with the pollution cost in the retail price so that consumers can select intelligently. Paying directly by western governments to Chinese government will hide this pollution charge and bias the market.

    If pollution cost is charged correctly, the market will reflect what consumers think about pollution, and may reduce demand of polluting goods, or goods from inefficient or polluting factories.

  4. If foreign countries don’t want to pay for China’s environmental cleanup, they could always move production back to their own countries and create more unemployment in China. Maybe some jobs will come back to the states for once.

  5. Bill, I agree absolutely that the costs of the pollution should fall on the manufacturer – exported product or not. If the company is owned in full or in part by a foreign company, then they will pay accordingly.

  6. I guess the competitions in china are not so well regulated. You can always find some manufacturers that lower their prices by disregarding the environmental laws.

  7. I agree with Bill. Tax the manufactures and the importers will pay the higher price if they feel it’s worth it.

    This whole talk is just Bullshit, from both sides.

  8. Pingback: Will China turn off their lights tonight? | A China Blog on Suzhou Expat Life

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