China's environmental hot air and hypocrisy
China's call last week for developed nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent could have been a sign that the soon-to-be superpower is taking environmental issues seriously, but closer inspection reveals naked self-interest is still dominating its calculations. China, which surpassed the United States last year as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, exempted itself from its proposed reductions which would see First World nations cut emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Such an aggressive posture does not bode well for progress in the crucial round of climate talks in Copenhagen scheduled for December.
The Chinese insist that they and other developing nations ought to be allowed to balance pollution reduction with the economic growth required to pull their inhabitants out of poverty and develop to First World standards. This is a laudable goal, but China is exhibiting disingenuous modesty in classifying itself among this group, especially considering its sharply rising power and soaring ambitions of recent years.
There is no denying that China needs further development. Its gross domestic product by purchasing power parity is roughly eight times less than Canada's despite having 40 times the population. However, the ruling Communist party's spending priorities do not really reflect this. Instead, the Chinese government has lofty plans for the near future including a space station and a moon landing. Meanwhile, it has been raising its military spending by double-digit percentages annually in recent years despite facing no real threats other than a low-level insurgency among ethnic Uighurs in a far western province.
Even China's insistence that western countries help the developing world combat global warming through economic and technological aid is more than a little self-serving. Although already in possession of a booming research sector, China is widely believed to maintain an industrial espionage program designed to uncover trade secrets and emerging technologies in a variety of fields across the globe.
Contrary to its public position, China has plenty of room for improvement without seriously affecting growth. For instance, Chinese industry is notoriously inefficient and dirty, making Chinese cities among the world's most polluted. The entire country would benefit hugely from even basic upgrades to industrial infrastructure and manufacturing processes. Tighter regulation and enforcement in the country's famously loose business environment would work wonders, too.
Until then, China should refrain from the absurd hypocrisy of telling other countries what emission standards they should aspire to achieve.Posted by Arthur Caldicott on 27 May 2009