When it comes to comparing countries’ greenhouse-gas emissions, lots of developing countries prefer to use per-capita emissions, rather than absolute emissions. That makes India and China look pretty tame, and countries such as the U.S. and Australia pretty awful.
Plenty of rich-country diplomats bristle at such talk, most recently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in India. Today in Beijing, Nicholas Stern offered another reason why per-capita emissions might not be a very useful yardstick.
Lord Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank and author of a reknowned report on the cost of tackling climate change, was speaking in Beijing today. Much of his talk revolved around the usual climate-speak: China has to play ball one way or another with global efforts to tackle climate change, and the West can help China get there.
But he also noted something important: There are parts of China that are starting to look very Western indeed—when it comes to the amount of greenhouse gases they produce. AFP reports:
“There are many parts of China where emissions intensity and emissions per capita are looking much like some of the richer countries in Europe,” [Lord Stern] said in a speech that laid out his predictions on global warming.
He said there are 13 regions with higher per-capita emissions than France, and six with higher per-capita emissions than the U.K. (None, apparently, have yet caught up with Australian or American levels.) These are the countries, remember, that are being asked to underwrite China’s transition to a cleaner economy. Lord Stern has also come out lately in favor of the West paying for emissions from Chinese factories, and also for limiting atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels to 350 parts per million, a really tall order.
Why does the regional difference matter? Those “dirtier” regions are presumably the more urban and industrialized bits of China, precisely the parts of the country responsible for the bulk of China’s absolute greenhouse-gas emissions and economic growth. They are also the regions expected to grow the most through migrations from the countryside over the next 20 years.
In other words, when it comes to the global climate debate, there’s not one “China,” with a relatively low level of greenhouse-gas emissions which could grow by leaps and bounds before ever coming close to American or European levels of emissions.
There are several Chinas—and one, in particular, is already on par with rich countries which do have obligations under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions and which are being asked to shoulder much of the burden of China’s economic transformation.
Something to keep in mind as the climate-policy poker game continues in the months before the big December summit in Copenhagen.***********
A comment on the WSJ blog:
That fact that anyone believes there is a single China on anything is still one of the more interesting pieces of this debate.
OF COURSE Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou are going to have the highest contribution from a personal consumption sense. these are properous cities where residents began driving cars, buying larger reseidential properties, and enjoying the life of happy consumers before anyone else.
Take a deeper dive, and there are probably 15-20 other cities who are the provincial capitals (Nanjing, Tianjin, Chengdu, Xian, Wuhan, Xiamen, etc) that are growing at rates (GDP, buildings, and people) faster than the first three mentioned. These are the cities that are going to absorb the next 400 million that are expecteed to move to the city over the next 15-20 years.
Dive a bit deeper than that though, and that is where you will find American emissions. Not American “like” emissions”. America’s Emissions. Call it a carbon trade if you like, but a visit to the city of Shantou, Foshan, Dongguan, or any one of China’s industrial clusters, and one will find goods that are being produced for American consumers in carbon belching factories. Many of which are American owned and managed.
Which brings me to the point that the previous anon poster made. Per capita carbon rates are not an accurate measure of anything excepted the media’s misunderstanding of the issues. On the one hand, no one is calculation the carbon footprint of American consumers that can be found in China’s factories, and no one is accurately determining the various carbon footprints that exist in China…. and those are just two of the major adulterations that exist before you take into consieration the fact that carbon readings from either State as a whole are just guesses.
Where that leaves us in the COP15 is in a position where little will be achieved. there are rumors of a backroom deal between the US and China on developing technologies, but if anyone is looking for a “cap” and “trade” deal, I think they should look elsewhere. The two States operate in different realities of the same issue, so developing a solution is near impossible when only focusing on “carbon” as it is not the real problem.. it is the byproduct of many problems.