For now, we have hot air – not what you want when the topic for debate is CO2 emissions. But, only months before December''s Copenhagen meeting, where 181 countries are supposed to slug out a post-Kyoto protocol, bluster inevitably outweighs real concessions.
The biggest impasse is between China and the US, which together emit 40 per cent of the world''s carbon. The US is considering legislation that would cut emissions by 16-17 per cent from current levels by 2020 – roughly flat on 1990 levels, Kyoto''s baseline year. Japan this week went slightly better, offering an 8 per cent cut from 1990. The European Union offers 20 per cent; but with the EU already making good headway on cuts, this is a lesser concession than it looks.
China and India are dismissive. Beijing has raised the stakes by urging rich countries to cut emissions 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and to pay huge sums to help poor countries cope with climate change. But everyone, China included, knows this is unrealistic. Its tough stance is an opening gambit, not a target outcome.
That stance is based on old arguments, but they are not less potent for being well-worn. The west has been polluting for 200 years and China''s per capita emissions are only one-fifth of those of the US. Some 40 per cent of Chinese energy use produces exports for western consumers. That Beijing has logic and morality on its side, however, does not mean we will not all perish by applying them.
Not all is lost. China, and even India, are doing more than they are letting on. But they cannot be seen as being lectured by the west: much of their tough talk is for domestic display. So neither wants to be penned in by binding commitments – but they do want to be more energy-efficient and less polluting. Notwithstanding the smog hanging over Chinese cities, Beijing really is trying to implement stricter environmental standards.
Developing countries will not accept absolute cuts. But there is talk behind the scenes of China “bending the curve” – slowing the rate of increase. That would be a start. The best outcome would be if poor-country emitters were willing to quantify such promises.
To achieve this, rich countries must lead. They must put money on the table so poor countries see financial gains from combating climate change. They should also offer genuine research and technology collaboration – cheap, but symbolically important for countries such as China. If rich countries move, they may find China and others are willing to respond.
(Source:Financial Times Editorial 2009-06-12)