Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen

4:00 pm - December 29th 2009

by Guest    

      Share on Tumblr

contribution by Madam Miaow

This letter was written in response to Mark Lynas in the Guardian blaming China for Copenhagen

Dear Mark,

So the cold war is alive and well.

Western spin is really pulling out all the stops, perhaps because we are onto you as the various blogs and forums show.

If anything, China got strong-armed into signing a weak deal at Copenhagen when it should have held out as Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and others have said.

The US and the rich nations use up almost all the carbon allowance in the atmosphere over the past 160 years, the US dithers over ten years of Bush, they refuse to ratify Kyoto, the Danish summit chair has to resign when she’s caught fast-tracking the rich nations’ deal, the West fail in their Kyoto pledges, Canada rips up its Kyoto deal and proceeds with exploiting its huge reserves of dirty oil, the US will only reduce emissions by 4% against the 1990 base year and not the 17% you describe as “serious cuts”, while China makes real strides in green technology, and so on.

But it is all China’s fault.

Hillary Clinton bursts into the conference demanding China [edit: eat merde] when the US didn’t even have anything to offer. They knew that the terms of the “verification” they demanded was an exercise in humiliation and China would not stand for it. The US can’t get anything meaningful past their senate, which includes some “wholly owned subsidiaries of the energy industry” (Monbiot) and resorts to sleight of hand.

But China is the villain.

As for Merkel, she is a massive hypocrite when you look at what her government’s been doing.

Even John Prescott pointed out that we’ve had our industrial revolution yet the poor countries have to halt in their tracks and people live on an average of $2 per day. See Prescott’s take here.

But according to you China twirls its moustache and strokes its cat as it eats the planet for breakfast.

What other country has an entire city using solar powered appliances?

Who else has planted such huge tracts of forest while loggers tear down the rest? China aims for 15% of its energy from renewables, it has revolutionised wind-turbines, makes a key component of electric car batteries, and so on. We in the UK can’t even meet our Kyoto promise.

The world says it’ll pay $100 billion into the global kitty. Yet how much does the US spend each year on wars? Something like a million dollars a day on petrol alone.

This game of smoke and mirrors is shameful. Dividing the world into angel and devil does not help, neither does throwing a hissy-fit when China baulks at signing the rich nations’ deal which condemns the poor nations to a slumdog future.

At an early stage in its industrial development China is moving onto the right track. By all means criticise them when they screw up but give them credit for what they’re getting right. The future of the planet is too important for these political football games.

Published at Madam Miaow’s after it was deleted from the Guardian article.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  

About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by

Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Environment ,Foreign affairs ,Realpolitik

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Reader comments


You may be right about China. The authoritarian dictatorship may really be taking climate change seriously and doing something about it.

But be careful.

I was in China this summer, and what I heard was an awful lot of propaganda about “green energy” and “renewable sources”. Because what I saw was entire areas being covered in concrete, as 5-year plans produced new cities the size of Chicago.

I saw a Beijing where the polution was so bad the sun was obscured.

I read-up before and after about entire populations shifted wholesale from rural areas into concrete tenaments to provide cheap labour for factories running on coal.

In the 1930s, the left had a fondness for turning blind eyes to Stalin’s purges and mass starvation programmes, proclaiming the Soviets as the harbingers of an enlightened future of justice.

Beware repeating the mistakes of history.

(Which is not to let the west off the hook. But this article looks strikingly naive in its denunciation of western conspiracy blame-games whilst presenting China as the counter-point saviour).

I think Mark Lynas may be right when he says that it’s taboo for Western NGOs to criticise developing countries. If China was serious about restraining its own growth in carbon emissions, it would implement some kind of economic moderator on carbon use such as a carbon tax, and it would support Western countries agreeing ambitious targets between themselves at Copenhagen. China, according to Lynas, was even against the latter, which tells you how hardline they actually are!

Pointing to the new law that says Chinese energy companies have to buy all renewable energy available to them, is not very impressive because no country would want to see good, existing renewable energy capacity go to waste (although the way they’ve done it isn’t necessarily the most economically efficient).

Let’s not forget that a one-party government like China’s is not going to be especially receptive to the needs of its own people, let alone people in other countries.

I think we are in danger also of seeing China’s PR moves on global warming as far more meaningful than they really are – again, it’s the “we spend so much time criticising our own governments, we forget how much worse other governments can actually be” effect at play, for some of us!

I personally think that the only way we are going to avoid the situation where China scuppers any possibility of an effective global deal on emissions reductions, is by threatening China with trade sanctions, and if necessary following through with those threats. It’s not pretty, it’s risky, but what else can we do?

Bear in mind that any discussion of trade sanctions on China which assumes that we are freely trading with them is founded on a misconception – Chinese censorship, currency manipulation, intervention in the economy, state ownership, and poor standards of property rights in China, make it far from a free trade relationship already.

As I said this morning:

This is spot on and makes the two points I wanted to. Firstly, the US and European stance has been completely hypocritical and China became a whipping boy for their failure.

Secondly, and more importantly, China knows there is serious money to be made from Green technology, renewable energy and ways to reduce pollution. That way lies the real technical innovation of the future. In fact all the big powerhouses from Asia are pouring money into R&D in this area. Meanwhile we’re held back by right-whingers who are still peddling conspiracy theory about global warming from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Amazing. When we fall way back in technical innovation in 20 years time then these people will realise their folly.

It’s also interesting that today Guido Fawkes is bashing John Prescott, who’s point that China should be allowed to help its poor come out of poverty (an argument I don’t entirely buy, but capitalists do) is rubbished for no reason other than because he doesn’t like Prezza.

These libertarians really are crap on consistency aren’t they.

Most puzzling -and worrying- is why the increasingly disappointing Guardian decided to delete the letter. It’s not abusive, it’s not defamatory, it’s not even particularly controversial. It just states that China is being used as a convenient scapegoat in the wake of the Copenhagen summit.

I’m afraid I agree with Paul’s take above. This reads like a regular anti-western piece and doesn’t really address most of the points made in the Guardian article which was about Copenhagan. Pointing out that China has a city using only renewable energy or that the west spends a lot on war doesn’t really take anything away from the Lynas article.

A deal with China will need at least some form of verification in order to make it meaningful. Even on domestic issues, the CPC in Beijing frequently announce policies or enact law only to see them completly disregarded at the provincial (never mind local levels.)


About 3 weeks ago, I could have sworn the right were all behind Nigel Lawson because he said we couldn’t cut emissions because this would be economically more disastrous for poor countries than allowing AGW.

But now that’s wrong?

I can’t keep up with these righties…

So China doesn’t want to set up a ponzi “carbon trading” system, now that the banking system has collapsed, making politicians and bankers richer

So China doesn’t want to throw its citizens back into the third world because western bankers say it should to raise trillions in taxes, making politicians and bankers richer

So China has never ever sent a representative to the Bilderberg conferences, unlike the West and the Banks.

No wonder they are to blame. They just aren’t up to speed yet.

I agree with the letter. Sort of. It’s rather strongly one-sided though. I know it’s a response to a very anti-China article, but I think it’s important to recognise that China aren’t perfect either more clearly. Instead it’s rather ranty.

I wish people would stop discussing China and start discussing the Chinese.

They don’t pollute much individually. They use a fraction of the energy we use but there are 1.4 billion of them. The fact that China is growing quickly is good, they are polluting but their individual emissions are still dwarfed by our own.

There’s a concept of survival emissions, a minimum amount of pollution people are entitled to. The Chinese are certainly polluting a lot, and it makes sense to get into good habits, but they are en mass so poor it seems a little harsh to expect a great deal from them. 8% growth won’t last forever.

There’s also the fact that a huge amount of our emissions have been offshored alongside our manufacturing industries. They get the pollution, but we get the mobile phones and flat screen TVs.

It’s certainly true that a lot of pollution in China, including carbon emissions, is pollution generated by the production of goods for export to the West. Nonetheless, the carbon costs of production of goods for export ought to be factored in to the costs of those goods – either by the Chinese, or by the EU or UK in the form of the blunt instrument of tariffs. Otherwise we are going to continue to import those goods in vast and increasing quantities, and we the *Western consumers*, are going to pay nothing in respect of the emissions used in the process of producing those Chinese goods. Which is obviously undesirable, and undermines efforts to constrain emissions at a global level, because it means production can simply be shifted to China to avoid these “priced in” carbon costs (i.e. carbon taxes or emissions permits).

This is what I think a lot of people arguing for justice for developing countries don’t get. If you argue for them to have *no* constraints, no penalties, on their carbon emissions, then their exports will have no constraints and no penalties associated with the emissions involved in producing those exports.

Western companies who operate in China or buy goods from China *love* the fact that China doesn’t factor the cost of carbon emissions, and want things to stay that way, from a self-interested perspective. Remember that!

I can certainly see a case for the Chinese government subsidising (or exempting) carbon tax payments for purchases by their own citizens, but that could be taken care of by “cap-and-dividend”, which is a good, progressive idea that should be implemented anyway.

The beauty of cap-and-dividend is that it’s an efficient market-based system but it’s also redistributive. See e.g. for more details. I really think that cap-and-dividend addresses the economic concerns of both Left Outside and Old Holborn above (although not Old Holborn’s conspiracy theories, to which I will simply say: the idea of all the world’s scientific societies being engaged in a common conspiracy to promote fake science is simply ludicrous).

Plus you can also look at reducing other taxes, such as income taxes, with the income you get from selling emissions permits, but I think the redistributive element of cap-and-dividend is essential and has got to come first, before you look at that.

>>we’ve had our industrial revolution yet the poor countries have to halt in their tracks and people live on an average of $2 per day.

Yes, unfortunately if we want a habitable world then that is the cold, hard truth of it. It’s not fair but it’s reality. Rich countries created the problem but they can’t solve it on their own. The reality is that China and India will be the big emitters of this century and unless they change that, we’re all doomed, no matter what the West does.

Of course they could try developing a low-carbon economy. It’s probably easier than retro-fitting an oil-based economy as the West is currently trying to do. Win-win.

By the way, Mark Lynas was at Copenhagen as part of the Maldives delegation. The Maldives being, you know, a developing country.

Western companies who operate in China or buy goods from China *love* the fact that China doesn’t factor the cost of carbon emissions, and want things to stay that way, from a self-interested perspective. Remember that!

I agree with this.

Old Holborn: No wonder they are to blame. They just aren’t up to speed yet.

Tell that to your idol Guido Fawkes, who is now slamming Prezza for making the argument you just did.

Professor Willem Buiter of LSE wrote a masterful destruction of the ‘ it’s our turn to pollute now’ argument that the developing world and Western NGOs are advancing. It is well worth a read. Moreover, he has an interesting point that if we are collectively responsible for the historical emissions of our ancestors. Does that mean the island of Great Britain or the British Empire? Which would mean large parts of Asia share responsibility for the UKs historical emissions.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen

  2. sunny hundal

    I agree with @madammiaow on this: 'Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen'

  3. topsy_top20k

    :: Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen

  4. Leon Green

    RT @pickledpolitics I agree with @madammiaow on this: 'Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen'

  5. HarpyMarx

    RT @pickledpolitics: I agree with @madammiaow on this: 'Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen'

  6. Milena Buyum

    RT @pickledpolitics I agree with @madammiaow on this: 'Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen'

  7. Madam Miaow

    RT @pickledpolitics: I agree with @madammiaow on this: 'Blaming China for our failures in Copenhagen'

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.