Seven truths about China and climate change

China has officially passed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. This is likely to prompt a lot of misinformation and obfuscation from the usual quarters. Cyclists pass a factory in Yutian in China's north-west Hebei province.So here are some simple truths about China and global warming that everyone should remember as the debate proceeds.

1. The U.S. still vastly outpaces China in terms of per-capita GHG emissions, and will for the foreseeable future. That’s because the U.S. is a much more industrialized and richer country, with a GDP of around $13.2 trillion compared to China’s of $2.5 trillion.

2. The West in general and the U.S. in particular are responsible for the vast majority of manmade greenhouse gases presently in the atmosphere. The West also consumed many resources to the point of near-depletion, among them petroleum. That means China will be denied the ability to develop in the same way and at the same pace the U.S. did. In addition, China will have to contend with the already-inevitable impacts of global warming, which it did not create. 

3. China still contains millions of people in abject poverty. Economic development there is an ethical and political imperative. For people in the West to discourage development in China is both futile and unethical.

4. If China develops along the same path as the West, it will condemn all of humanity to a Lord of the Flies future of disease, extreme weather, violent conflict, starvation, and mass immigration. Again: if China develops based on fossil fuels, humanity is f*cked.

5. Sustainable development for China – using green energy and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing – will be much, much more expensive than the default (Western) path to industrialization.

6. The only way China will choose to develop in a more sustainable-but-expensive way is if somebody else pays for it.

7. Who should pay for it? Those who reaped the benefits of fossil fuels and filled the atmosphere with carbon. Us. The West. Principally the U.S.

There you have it. The logic of the situation – the moral logic, the economic logic, the climatic logic – points in one direction: we need to start sending a lot of sustainable development money and technology, and know-how to China.
(And India, and Africa, etc.)

Anybody want to tell me where this chain of reasoning breaks down? And if doesn’t, why so few people forthrightly face its conclusion?

Posted by David Roberts/Photograph by Peter Parks/AFP 

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