Saturday, April 21, 2007

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On global warming, life will not be fair

Reuters reports the latest trends in CO2 emissons:

China will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) either this year or next, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The estimate is much firmer than the IEA’s previous forecast, last November, that on current trends China would overtake the United States before 2010.

”Either this year or next year,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol told Reuters, in answer to the question of when China would overtake the United States....

China is set to become the world’s top carbon emitter just as serious talks start to extend the U.N.-sponsored Kyoto Protocol on global warming beyond 2012, potentially heaping pressure on Beijing to take more action on climate change.

A copy of a so-far unpublished Chinese government global warming report, seen by Reuters, rejects binding caps on carbon emissions until the country’s modernisation, by the middle of this century, opting instead to brake emissions growth.

The United States, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, would not join a new climate change regime unless it also applied to China and India, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union said on Wednesday.

”There will be no comprehensive global warming legislation coming out of the United States... that does not include limits or a programme for China, India and the rest of the developing world,” Ambassador C. Boyden Gray told Reuters in an interview ahead of an April 30 U.S.-EU summit.

Few Western climate negotiators expect China to accept caps from 2013 but do want to see a timeline for that....

Latest data shows China is building a coal-fired power plant every four days, British foreign ministry official John Ashton said on Monday.

Growth in the emerging Asian giant’s emissions puts in perspective Western efforts to fight climate change, Birol said.

”What we do in Europe may be with good intentions, may be very ethical... but if you put it in terms of numbers its meaning is very limited.”

Read the whole thing.

One could argue -- as China will -- that the U.S. produces far more pollutants per person -- not to mention the fact that the OECD countries are responsible for much of pre-existing pollution in the atmosphere.

However, if this IPCC report is correct, then global warming will have disproportionate effects on the poorer countries of the world. From a bargaining perspective, it will be interesting to see whether this effect will put greater pressure on China than the United States.

posted by Dan on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM


China, with internal pressure sure to outweigh external ones, may have different energy options than the US. Note the NT Times article "China's Automakers, With Beijings Prodding Show Alternative-Fuel Cars" at, and its statement: "Western environmentalists have long speculated whether China may actually leapfrog the West in personal transportation by embracing new automotive technologies before the country’s oil and auto industries can become too wedded to internal combustion engines." Same may be true of other energy build outs.

posted by: Dave Porter on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

"The United States, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001,..."


The U.S. was never in Kyoto. Neither Clinton nor Bush ever presented the treaty to the Senate for approval.

What event are the Reuters idiots pointing to in 2001 that constituted the U.S. "pulling out of Kyoto"?

posted by: JohnF on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

This all strikes me as extraordinarily short sighted on the part of all parties. If China, the United States, Western Europe or any other country that looks to attain or maintain a developed economy in the next century thinks that goal will be politically feasible in the context of mass crop failures, population movements, changing weather patterns etc. that global warming is set to cause all across the world, they are delusional. The political instability such events will cause, even if such instability happens across seas and borders, threatens the fabric of the global economy that holds the only promise for international wealth and security. If there were ever an international problem to which the notion of "collective security" applied, climate change is it.

posted by: Matt Eckel on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

Depending on the severity of global warming's impact, it is not at all clear that the ensuing political instability will be anything approaching untenable. If the global sea level rises 3 feet, Bangladesh will be in a world of hurt, but even a ten foot rise in sea levels isn't unmanageable in Florida. Yes, a lot of beachfront property disappears, but the term ecological "refugee" is overkill. The entirety of Florida could disappear tomorrow, but the state is almost entirely insured. The reinsurance industry will take a hit, but life goes on.

Only really poor people will be destroyed by global warming - just like every other catastrophe.

From a bargaining perspective, the external justice of the situation will always be subsumed by internal political factors. The complication is that morality is a political issue in the United States and that image is a political issue in China.

posted by: Erasmus on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

I'm not worried about a 'refugee' crisis within the borders of the United States per se, but to imagine that large-scale population movements within the equatorial areas of Africa, Latin America and Asia will pass without damaging US security is a pipe dream. Refugees from the crisis in Rwanda during the early 1990s (a crisis which, if Jared Diamond is to be believed, was exacerbated by environmental concerns) crossing the border into Zaire threw that country into chaos and plunged the entirety of Central Africa into a war that has, by all accounts, killed millions to date. Now imagine that happening all across the equator all at once. What will the consequences be in the Islamic world, already riven by political strife? What will such chaos in Latin America do to American immigration difficulties? To imagine that the industrialized world, which relies on a relatively stable regime of global commerce in order to continue to function, will be able to isolate itself from such endemic crises is simply wishful thinking.

posted by: Matt Eckel on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

In the "small ray of hope" category, at least US methane emissions have been fairly consistently declining.

I'm sure that at the same time the US will point out that it does very well on emissions per GDP produced. Though certainly people everywhere consume goods that require CO2 in their production. Manufacturing has to be done *somewhere* after all. Yet at the same time the worrying thing is that China is fairly inefficient at energy use, not least because of subsidies.

posted by: John Thacker on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

My sense is that China is quite willing to adapt to a warmer climate (or, at least, much more willing to do that than restrict its growth). And if it can, in the process, grab the moral high ground (carbon emissions trump human rights) and manage to get the U.S. and Europeans to restrict their own emissions and economies and subsidize China's development (thereby restoring China to its rightful place at the top), so very much the better.

posted by: Slocum on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

JohnF - In a narrow sense, you're right, of course. But analysts and activists of int'l environmental politics often use "Kyoto" not to refer to the city or to the agreement itself but, rather, as shorthand for the broader multilateral diplomatic process that began in Berlin in 1995. By that standard, the US was very much a part of the Kyoto Process. The US delegation derived substantial leverage from the shadowy hope that concessions by other parties might secure US participation. As a result, much of the Kyoto agreement reflects US influence. Tha obviously changes in 2001 when the US delegation - at GWB's behest - makes clear that it is no longer interested in producing a ratifiable agreement. The US still continues to participate in the process, but obviously on much different grounds.

posted by: CM on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]


Thanks. I guess I didn't understand Reuterspeak and took them too literally. I appreciate the translation.

posted by: JohnF on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

Although extrapolation is seldom justified, if present trends continue, in 7 years China will produce roughly twice as much CO2 as the U.S.A.

posted by: Thomas Esmond Knox on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

Europe and the US went through the industrial revolution, where slums, pollution and the works were its trademarks didn't have any of this stuff hanging over them as they chugged along creating their healthy economies. Now that other developing countries are trying to do the same these past polluters are saying clean up your act? Sounds a bit rich to me. Brings me back to a BBC report on the Beijing Olympics where they said that the Olympic indoor bicycle tracks which was made of wood was not eco friendly because you had to cut down trees for wood. If Europe and US really wants China to clean up its act instead of trying to stunt its growth (economic clout) then it should help by supplying technology and expertise instead of just rhetoric. I'm sure if you went back to the industrial revolution and told the two governments to cut its carbon emissions and reduce business' carbon footprint you would be booted out the door because when a country is growing no government wants to sacrifice it by going green. When it comes down to it this go green stuff is rolls nicely off the tongue but a bit harder to put into practice.

posted by: Tom on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

I am kind of surprised China will not pass us sooner. Don't they have something like 4x as many people as we do.

posted by: steve b on 04.21.07 at 02:42 PM [permalink]

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