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What China is doing about climate change

Published Dec 16, 2009 6:06 PM

After a barrage of propaganda emanating from Washington and the big business media, most people in the U.S. have been led to believe that any failure to reach an agreement at the Copenhagen summit on climate change will be China’s fault.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, it is the U.S. and other industrialized capitalist countries, where industry is tied to making profits, that are responsible for the lion’s share of the pollution and greenhouse gases that are changing the world’s climate. China and other developing countries have contributed only a minute part of the emissions now affecting our weather.

China has four times as many people as the U.S., yet it has only in the past year drawn even with the U.S. in terms of overall greenhouse gas emissions. This reflects China’s rapid industrial development at a time when U.S. industry has been shutting down, moving to other countries, and leaving workers in what was the industrial heartland to suffer in a decaying “Rust Belt.”

China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, which mandated all industrialized countries to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2012 — cutbacks that were to average about 5 percent below those nations’ 1990 emission levels. While it participated in the negotiations and got many concessions, the U.S. refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. According to a U.N. report issued Oct. 21, the U.S. now emits 17 percent more greenhouse gases than it did in 1990.

Most important, China has a planned economy, albeit one in which there is also a private sector. Over the past three years, the government’s five-year plans for economic development have been integrated with very comprehensive and detailed goals on reducing consumption of energy, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

No other country has made such a strong commitment to the future.

China has built the world’s largest
solar office building.
Photo: china.org.cn

World’s biggest solar office building

China’s scientists and engineers have been mobilized to find new ways to conserve energy and get energy from renewable sources. In fact, just weeks before the Copenhagen summit began, the world’s largest solar energy office building opened in Dezhou, Shangdong Province, in northwest China. The huge building features exhibition centers, scientific research facilities, meeting and training facilities, and a hotel.

According to china.org.cn: “Green ideas have been applied throughout the construction. The external structure of the building used only 1 percent of the steel used to construct the Bird’s Nest. Advanced roof and wall insulation mean energy savings 30 percent higher than the national energy saving standard.”

The technological advances developed for this building will now be available for other projects.

China has become the world’s largest producer of solar panels, outstripping Germany. It also makes the vast majority of low-energy fluorescent bulbs sold around the world.

One of China’s biggest problems in regearing for green development is its historical dependence on coal. According to MBendi Information Services, China is the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world, and many of China’s large coal reserves are not yet developed. It has coal reserves of more than 114 billion tons, 13.51 percent of the world total. It is coal that has fueled China’s industrial development.

Northern China, especially Shanxi Province, contains most of China’s easily accessible coal and virtually all of its large state-owned mines. Many of the smaller mines are privately owned and have a terrible safety record. The government is now in the process of closing many of them down.

How can China continue to develop while tackling the problem of greenhouse gases? Deborah Seligsohn, a Beijing-based energy expert with the World Resources Institute, says China is now “an emerging leader in clean-coal technologies. It has built more high-efficiency coal-fired power plants than any country,” she said. (AFP, Dec. 15)

More such plants are planned to replace old and dirty furnaces in Shanxi. It’s an example of how countries whose development was impeded by imperialist control need to break that tie and acquire a basic industrial infrastructure before they can move to higher, cleaner technologies.

Although U.S. politicians are bent on China-bashing to cover up the responsibility of imperialism in bogging down a meaningful emissions agreement, the world’s scientists are more and more disputing this assessment.

Scientists impressed by China’s actions

Science News, a weekly U.S. science magazine, in its Dec. 5 issue said, “In diagnosing why the Kyoto Protocol fell short of its primary aim  —  catalyzing serious emissions reductions by all major industrial powers  —  most analysts point to the United States. The treaty, which went into force on Feb. 16, 2005, has been ratified, accepted or agreed to by 189 countries. The lone holdout among nations that negotiated this accord: the United States.”

It adds that while U.S. negotiators are free to agree to an international accord, that wouldn’t commit this country, since the Senate can nix the deal. And Senate leaders in the past refused to ratify any agreement that didn’t impose emissions cuts on developing countries like China, India and Brazil.

However, China has not waited for another agreement but has acted on its own. Science News interviewed Rob Bradley, of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C., who was very impressed by China’s efforts.

“Three years ago, China committed itself to reducing its energy intensity, or energy use per unit of gross domestic product, 20 percent below 2005 levels — by 2010, Bradley notes. Compared with the United States, he adds, China also has considerably more ambitious renewable-energy goals and fuel-efficiency standards for its vehicles. And China has also mandated major emissions improvements by its 1,000 largest industrial operations, he says. Together, these enterprises account for one-third of China’s primary energy use.”

Bradley told the magazine, “If the U.S. said: ‘We’ll match what China’s going to do,’ I’d be fairly happy with that.”

Bradley thinks the reason China has been able to implement such a profound change in its economic plans is that “unlike American climate policy makers, who are usually lawyers, most of those in China were trained as engineers or scientists.”

This begs the question, however, of why most U.S. climate policy makers are lawyers, instead of scientists. Isn’t it because they are trained to promote and defend the interests of the transnational corporations and banks that own the U.S. economy lock, stock and barrel? In People’s China, even though it now allows capitalists, this exploiting class does not have the social weight to dictate government policy.