Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Could China Call America's (and our own) Bluff?

What if China did a complete 180 and agreed to legally binding greenhouse gas emission cuts including international monitoring and verification?   Don't laugh, they might just do that at Cancun.

Are the Chinese calling our bluff?   The U.S. and its faithful lapdog, a.k.a. the Harper government, have been dragging their heels on serious emissions cuts, hiding behind the argument that we need a binding agreement with the developing nations (i.e. China and India) first.

That was always a pretty rich argument coming from Canada, the world's emerging petro-state, governed by petro-pols, Tar Sanders and Fossil Fuelers.  It was also a giggle coming from the Americans with their "bought and paid for" Congress securely in the arms of Big Oil and Big Coal.   Yet to the willingly gullible it sounded like a plausible position - but only so long as the other side kept saying no.

Shit, oh dear, what have we done?  Has our game plan counted on Chinese intransigence?   Do we even have a Plan B?   What if the Chinese use their concession on overall emissions to bolster their argument on per capita emissions equality?   Don't understand that one?  Bear with me.

The historic (and I suspect desired) standoff between North America and the emerging economic superpowers has featured two equally plausible yet irreconcilable arguments behind which both sides could shelter with their supposed moral integrity intact.   Our side focused on total, overall emissions and told the Chinese that, as the newly crowned top overall  emitter, we demanded they sign on for binding reductions subject to international verification.   The Chinese retorted that their emissions needed to recognize that they were more than three times as populous as America and that, therefore, Americans were the real emissions swine, pumping out three times as much greenhouse gas per capita than the average Chinese guy.

The per capita argument has roughly the same moral weight as our, overall emissions argument.   China's pair of aces is backed up by a king - the argument that much of their emissions results from industrial production that is destined for WalMart shelves across America.   The Chinese didn't show up in the middle of the night and walk away with our manufacturing plants.   They didn't steal General Motors.   G.M. went over there and took those jobs with it.   So there is some legitimacy to China's backup argument.

So the dilemma becomes how, if the Chinese concede to our demands, do we persist in rejecting theirs without totally losing the moral high ground?   I don't think we can  hope to come out of this ahead.   In fact, I'm pretty sure the last thing we want to do is to honour our own, reciprocal obligations under our demand - simple binding and verifiable reductions in overall emissions.

Let's put it this way.  Canadians would have some tough choices - keep Athabasca rolling and growing or walk to work.  A strict, meaningful emissions reduction regime that didn't crack down on Athabasca would have to be met on the backs of other industries and the Canadian public.   And those parties might want to know why in hell they had to make good Athabasca's emissions?  And Harper might have to come up with an answer he doesn't have.

I think the Chinese might call our bluff and force us to admit we've been bluffing all along.


rabbit said...

I see little to indicate that China is interested in anything but its own immediate self interest.

The Mound of Sound said...

It actually would be in China's best interests to play ball. The regime understands that climate change poses the greatest threat to Chinese stability and their own political survival. Better still, if they accede to our demands it would force us to either make similar commitments or reveal that we were only indulging in empty political posturing.

Anonymous said... need to take a little visit to China and learn for yourself exactly what they are doing. They are doing a hell of a lot more than Canada or the US and that's a fact. I'd like to see how Harper would manage 1.6 billion people. Anyong, South Korea.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, I think you've overstated China's population by about 150-million but that's still not all that much.

It amazes me that we should react with surprise that China is now taking global warming and associated environmental maladies rather seriously. People here seem to have a difficult time grasping the magnitude of the challenges China is facing; great enough, in fact, that they (unlike us) can't pretend otherwise.

What has happened is that they have arrived at a critical decision point before us and, while that reflects a number of environmental vulnerabilities, it also indicates that the Chinese are positioned - and motivated - to pursue alternative energy and green technology while we in North America fall steadily behind at our very real cost.

By the way, I have always assume Anyong had a Korean meaning. Explain please?

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry, I should expand. I'm aware that anyong is Korean for "hello" but I understand it also may have a wider meaning or context.

Anonymous said...

Anyong is how a Korean person greets children and how children greet each other. People who are of the same age and who know each other very well greet each other with "Anyong". The complete expression is: "Anyong hass say yoh" and does not have any other meaning other than "hello". There are deviations depending upon the age of the person and who seems whom first.
The population of China as of December 13, 2010 is: 1,355,033,812. The 1.6 was a typo. Anyong

Anonymous said...

Just one other thing....people living in North America do not have any idea as to what is going on in China. When a Canadian from Vancouver made the statement to me that China was stealing our jobs meaning Canada, I just laughted and knew I was not going to get anywhere by explaining what outsourcing is. North Americans are being fed a lot of misinforation regarding China and what it is trying to accomplish in the way of cleaning up its environment. I worked in China in 2007 and where ever a person looked, there were solar panels everywhere. Now, my Korean friend who owns an International English School in Quingdao says, there are windmills everywhere. Since 1989 when China began to institute the capitalist economic system, it had had and still has an enormous task on its hands employing its people. It knows what part it must play in Global Warming but it does not want to be preached at by North America regarding this matter when they are doing more than North America. In order to understand what is happening here, one needs to be here for some time to get a grasp as to what is exactly happening in China regarding the environment. This is an interesting read: Anyong

saskboy said...

What they are doing is building plenty of coal plants, and producing a lot of one-time-use products for greedy Westerners. I understand they want a lot of jobs made in factories, but that's the wrong way to go about saving their environment - by appeasing greed.

Anonymous said...

Saskboy.....and we aren't greedy at all are we?

Anonymous said...

China announced yesterday that it will not be doing much exporting in 2011. They need to take care of their domestic population. They are also reducing their coal production by 3% for the year 2011. Is Canada reducing pollution in Fort McMurray? The only pollution control in Canada is being done privately and not by the Canadian Government. Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, did China indicate how it intends to keep its economy from collapse by not exporting? That is about the silliest thing I have heard in a long, long time. Of course I'm sure it would be the best news ever for the U.S., India, Europe and Brazil who would waste no time sewing up what had been China's markets.