Thursday, July 24, 2008
Changing the Climate or Balancing the Power?
The main headline from the recent G-8 summit in Tokyo was that the major industrial nations agreed to reduce by half their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, if the developing nations were also part of any new international climate control effort. The G-8 members are United States, Japan, Russia, Canada, Italy, Germany, France and Britain. Environmentalists were correct to claim that setting such a long time horizon was meaningless, but the real issue is the inclusion of the developing countries in a balanced approach since that question will dominate any short-term efforts made along the way towards the mid-century goal. The Bush Administration has been adamant that the major rising economies join any international environmental effort, since any campaign to slow economic growth that only affects some countries will work to the competitive advantage of those still rolling ahead unencumbered by “green” restraints. Industries forced out of the United States will seek haven in lands that are friendlier. This transfer of wealth, jobs and capacity has already been taking place as a result of asymmetrical trade policies, and would be accelerated by new environmental regulations. Yet, the final joint G-8 statement still held countries to different standards by claiming, “We recognize that what the major developed economies do will differ from what major developing economies do, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” Even with this large loophole, the developing countries objected. China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa (known as the Group of 5), who together represent 42% of the world's population - issued a statement declaring their split with the G-8. They rejected the notion that all should share in the 50% target, asserting that the wealthier countries have created most of the alleged environmental damage. “It is essential that developed countries take the lead in achieving ambitious and absolute greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” said the statement. Chinese President Hu Jintao went a step further in separate remarks. While acknowledging that developing nations must act. He said “China's central task now is to develop the economy and make life better for the people,” adding that “China's per capita emission is relatively low.” This last statement is true only because as rapid as Chinese development has been, it has not yet reached even half of its 1.3 billion people. Per unit of output, Chinese emissions are among the highest in the world. According to the OECD, China’s carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of output are five times greater than America’s. Beijing’s posture was consistent with the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference held in Bali, Indonesia, last December. China, despite have the world’s second largest economy, assumed the leadership of the Group of 77 underdeveloped countries and demanded that the burden of cleaning up the environment fall only on the “rich” developed nations. This is a blatant attempt to use the climate issue (in which it is doubtful that Beijing believes any more than does the Bush administration) to redistribute wealth on a global scale. The United States and Europe are to slow or even reverse their growth while China, India and the rest are to be free to roar ahead and grab increasing shares of global markets. China has ratified the primary international accords on climate change - the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol - but as a developing county, has no binding emission limits under either agreement. This is the main reason the United States has not ratified Kyoto. China’s own climate change plan, released in June 2007, has identified its priority areas as advanced coal technologies, energy efficient building technologies, clean vehicle technology and advanced industrial technologies. The 1st National Climate Change Strategy stressed that the country's top priority remains “sustainable development and poverty eradication.” Ma Kai, chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission told the world press at the time, “The international community should respect the developing countries' right to develop.” India, Brazil and the other rising countries undoubtedly feel the same way, as they should. They want the same living standards enjoyed by the West. But if there are truly global limits to growth, they are willing to fight for the largest share they can get. Meanwhile, in America the “greens” are on the march against material progress. Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is trying to cripple the coal industry. The United States has 27% of the world’s coal reserves, which at present rates of use will last over two centuries. The U.S. exports coal, and could easily increase use of this relatively cheap energy source. The country generates half its electricity with coal. The aim of the Alliance is not to provide plentiful, secure energy to improve American living standards, but to reduce the general level of affluence. Thus, blocking new power plants is a high priority for this Luddite group, even as prices for alternative energy sources soar. When I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, my house was only a few miles from the Bull Run Steam Plant run by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Bull Run generates more than six billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to supply about 430,000 homes. By 2010, TVA will have spent over $5.7 billion on emission controls at its coal plants to ensure power is generated as cleanly as possible, consistent with efficiency. To reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, Bull Run burns a blend of low-sulfur coal. A scrubber is scheduled for completion in 2009. To reduce nitrogen oxides, the plant uses a selective catalytic reduction system as well as combustion and boiler optimization controls. I never saw anything ominous at Bull Run, unlike what I saw in China, where coal is used without regard to emission controls. China generates 70% of its electricity with coal, and plans to build a new coal-fired power plant ever week, on average, until 2012. When I first landed in Beijing, I thought there was a fire nearby because the area was shrouded in gray smoke. In Zhuhai, a coastal resort town next to Macao now designated an economic development zone, I could see the new international airport- but not the planes landing or taking off because of the smog. According to the World Health Organization, China has 16 of the world’s most polluted cities, and clouds of Chinese pollutants are blown across the Pacific into North America. The WHO’s Michal Krzyzanowski said last year, “All of the cities are pretty highly polluted by European standards, but even by the standards of Asia, Chinese cities are pretty highly polluted.” The real problem is respiratory ailments, not the delusion of global warming. Crippling the U.S. economy for the benefit of Chinese expansion will only make the global environment worse as it also shifts the international balance of wealth and power in ways damaging to U.S. national security and prosperity. Americans should be proud of having built the largest economy, with a living standard that is the envy of the world. And they should demand that their leaders defend their achievements. Written by William R. Hawkins/ Accuracy in Media/ Photo: weblog.greenpeace.org