July 09, 2007

Cleaning Up China

"Hey, what about China?" It's the question to ask as far as global warming is concerned. After all, the United States and Europe could start cutting emissions tomorrow, and none of it would matter much so long as China keeps building dirty coal plants and belching carbon at its current pace. Now, I certainly don't think that's a good excuse for the West not to act, but it's still a good question: What about China? Well, Elizabeth Economy has a good overview of this issue in the Nation.

The dynamics here are complicated: Despite its best efforts, the central government doesn't have much power to enforce environmental laws in the provinces. And it's afraid to let journalists and green NGOs do too much agitating, since once you give those folks free rein, who knows where that leads. Plus, many of China's environmental groups are, quite understandably, more concerned about local air quality than about climate change. So, even though Beijing is drawing up some decent proposals to promote renewable energy and efficiency, actual progress is going to be insanely difficult.

The good news is that China is willing to do climate-friendly things whenever they don't put too much pressure on short-term economic growth. So Beijing won't push for explicit emissions cuts, but it has been taking active steps to lure Western investors who will finance green projects under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. Likewise, China's leaders would no doubt love for someone to figure out how to sequester carbon from coal plants, or make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Given the right technology and incentives, China is happy to go green. But at this point, it's still very, very far from that path.
-- Brad Plumer 9:40 PM || ||