Saturday, June 16, 2007

Boston Globe Editorial - China's dubious distinction

Boston Globe Editorial - China's dubious distinction
Copyright By The Boston Globe
Published: June 15, 2007

Sometime later this year, the United States will be able to relinquish to China the dubious mantle as the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases. The two runaway leaders in carbon dioxide emissions have something else in common, as well: Both reject any mandatory limits on their industries' freedom to spew into the atmosphere the pollutants that are trapping heat and causing global warming. The world's efforts to limit climate change will be halting at best until the United States changes its policy and persuades China to do the same.

Any doubt about where China stood on this issue ended last week when it unveiled its climate change plan, which had been two years in the making. The plan commits China to a goal of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2010, but it specifically rules out any mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. And while the Chinese auto industry has adopted tougher mileage standards than Washington has, China's projected efficiency gain overall would require unrealistically dramatic improvements over the country's recent performance.

In 2006 alone, China built 96 major power plants burning coal, the fossil fuel that emits the most carbon dioxide. While its climate change plan calls for more new generating capacity from nuclear power and renewable energy sources, such as wind, plans for new coal plants are also on the drawing boards, and many are built without approval from Beijing. According to the International Energy Agency, at this rate China's carbon dioxide emissions could grow in 25 years to double the amount of the United States, Japan and Europe combined.

China's justification for its no-mandates position is that as a developing country it must still balance economic growth with environmental concerns, which also include poor air and water quality. In addition, it has said that the industrial nations of the West and Japan must act first on global warming because the fossil-fuel burning of their many decades of economic development are responsible for so much of the atmosphere's buildup of carbon dioxide. That argument helped get China and India excused from the emissions limits established in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But that protocol expires in 2012. The climate change regulations that follow it cannot allow any large emitters to be exempted from whichever limits the global community adopts. The United States can ensure this by accepting mandates itself, and showing China and India that they will forfeit opportunities to be at the forefront of green technology developments if they do not also subject their industries to international limits on emissions. Playing that leadership role could be the most important task for President George W. Bush's successor in the White House.


Post a Comment

<< Home