China "Going Out"

China’s pollution is not the same as cutting C02

Patricia Adams, an economist with Probe International, says China will not live up to global CO2 emission standards. Commodities host, Andrew Bell , for Business News Network (BNN), interviews Adams after the release of her new report, The Truth About China, today.

Key points:

“We cannot expect reforms to reduce China’s carbon”

Says Beijing has its hand out for “billions in climate aid”

Patricia Adams’ report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation

Says climate science “not settled” & that public has lost trust in “climate activists”

Carbon dioxide is a tasteless gas that does not harm health. Efforts to reduce it rely on unproven
abatement technologies …

Click on the image to view the interview in full. Broadcast Wednesday morning, December 2, by Canada’s English-language business news channel, BNN. Hosted by Andrew Bell.


A full transcript of the interview follows below

Andrew: Our guest says China is not, repeat not serious about cutting its carbon dixoide emissions and she says that’s because the Communist Party knows that to stay in power it must maintain economic growth and “China’s leaders know that GDP growth is tied to fossil fuel use”. We’re joined now by Patricia Adams, economist out of the group called Probe International. Wonderful to see you. We won’t get into too much detail but Probe International, an environmental group looking at environmental policy around the world;  one of your main bents is the market is really the best way to solve this and prescriptions from government up high is not a good approach.

Patricia: Absolutely. If you have good market signals, you have market discipline, and you have good laws which outline what rights are; then markets will convey very good information about environmental costs.

Andrew: It’s a complex set of issues but if I could summarize your take on what China is really doing at these Paris climate talks. You say, yes; they do have awful pollution but that’s not the same as actually cutting C02. We tend to conflate the two ideas. We can’t expect serious reforms from China on cutting carbon. But Beijing, meanwhile, you reckon, it would be quite happy to pocket billions in climate aid.

Patricia: Absolutely. What they’re after is a lot of money that will go not only to them but to other Third World countries. They consider themselves a Third World country, by the way. And of course China is the biggest manufacturer of a lot of the “renewable” energies like solar and wind, so they would like to capture some of that business. But you’re right about C02 and what I would call the “killer pollutants” – which are the things coming out of tailpipes and smokestacks – and we in the West have managed to control those. But not C02. C02 and GDP tend to track each other. As GDP goes up, the nasty stuff – the NOx, the SOx, the volatile organic compounds and so on – they go down. And that’s because citizens in the West say: “We don’t want to breathe that stuff.”

Andrew: Yeah. We want to have clean lungs [laugh]. Yeah. Before we go on, I should point out that your report, which is fascinating reading, is published by a group called the Global Warming Policy Foundation started by a former senior British politician, Nigel Lawson, I think; and this group says we’re open-minded about climate; we reckon that many aspects of the science are not settled but they are concerned about what they say is some alarmism in climate science.

Patricia: Yes. That’s absolutely right and they would like a debate, and we would like a debate as well. Many of the technologies that are held up as alternatives to fossil fuels are not green. For example, hydro dams, nuclear power – those are not green. They have very, very high costs; especially in a country like China, which has a very poor industrial safety record. China is planning to expand their nuclear fleet by three times in the next five years. Well, that’s a massive increase. But they don’t have skilled labour and they don’t have a safety regulatory regime.

Andrew: Well, they don’t have proper governance.

Patricia: Exactly.

Andrew: I mean, it’s a corrupt system.

Patricia: Exactly.

Andrew: But let’s not get into that because this is really good stuff. OK. So we know that sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxides are major pollutants in China and you’re an advocate of cutting those.

Patricia: Oh. Absolutely.

Andrew: But you reckon that’s not the same as cutting C02 emissions.

Patricia: No. And, in fact, if you try to cut C02 emissions; for example, by pricing carbon, making it more expensive, then it discourages the producers of the nasty pollutants from putting in scrubbers. When you scrub, you actually use more energy, so you produce more C02.

Andrew: That’s a paradox there, isn’t it?

Patricia: Paradox. Absolutely. So if you make C02, or if you make carbon more expensive, then that’s an additional disincentive to the polluters to turn on the scrubbers. By the way, China has a lot of S02 scrubbers in their factories, they just don’t use them. They use them, they turn them on when the inspectors come and when the inspectors leave, they turn them off.

Andrew: Sounds a bit like Volkswagen.

Patricia: Yes. A little bit. So they’re trying to save money and if you make carbon even more expensive then you’re going to make this kind of abatement even more expensive and it’ll slow it down.

Andrew: Let me quote from the summary of your report. You reckon, carbon dioxide, it’s not harmful to  health – now we don’t have time to get into all of that obviously – but you reckon that it’s a bit of a mirage or very, very expensive anyway trying to reduce C02, and unproven; wheareas, there are decent, pretty reasonable technologies out there for cutting the really dangerous pollutants in China.

Patricia: Yes. Absolutely. They’re immediately available and the citizens of China would love to have those. There was a fabulous documentary that went onto the Internet in China –

Andrew: With the kid … Oh sorry. Carry on.

Patricia: Yes. You’re right. That’s right. Produced by an investigative journalist in China and it got 250 million downloads. She went into pollution and the corruption that leads to the dreadful, dreadful smog that they have. Two-hundred and fifty million downloads within a week and then the government shut it down; took it off the Internet. So citizens would love to have these scrubbers – catalytic converters – they would love to get the killer pollutants out of their air. It’s killing a lot of people every year. Some estimates go up as high as 1.2 million people every year are dying because of what they call PM2.5 – it’s the particulate matter which is very nasty, lodges itself deep in your lungs and it’s creating asthma, respiratory, cardiac problems as well.

Andrew: Leaving out scrubbers though, if China was to start curbing the use of coal – and they’re not doing anything like that right now – but wouldn’t that reduce the nasty pollutants and the C02?

Patricia: Yes but it depends on what you go to. I mean, you can curb coal by going onto cleaner coal, you can get a lot of those nasty pollutants out with scrubbers in smokestacks. What are they going to go onto? Are they going to go onto dams? We know that, for example, dams have caused enormous problems in China. It’s thought that they triggered the earthquake in 2008; the Three Gorges Dam, of course, has a legion of problems that have been created as a result of it, affecting millions and millions of people. China is now building a lot of dams on transboundary rivers that originate in west and north China and in the Tibetan plateau –

Andrew: Oh yah. And India’s not so happy about that and what it could do to their rivers.

Patricia: Absolutely. And a quarter of the world’s population depends on the rivers that originate in China and that are now being dammed. So these have huge, huge environmental consequences and to somehow pretend that they’re green is wrong but of course the Chinese government is actually defending them as being an alternative to fossil fuels.

Andrew: So you reckon the West knows this and you reckon the West knows China is not serious about carbon …

Patricia: Yes. I think that’s true. I think everybody knows that it’s very unlikely that they want to or that they’re even able to get down their C02 emissions. Ninety percent of their energy today is coming from fossil fuels.

Andrew: Now, we’ve very little time but what about China’s big push into green energy?

Patricia: Well, it’s big for sure, and they’re building a lot of windmills and a lot of photovoltaic systems but they’re a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall energy picture. They’re very, very small and they will to a certain extent relieve some pressure on air but they’re very, very small. I mean, they’re one percent, and just a little over one percent; it’s a very small contributor to their energy picture.

Andrew: So when you see everybody holding hands in Paris you just shake your head to some extent.

Patricia: Yep.

Andrew: Would you prefer the politicians be a bit more honest?

Patricia: Absolutely. Of course they should be honest.

Andrew: Patricia, thanks very much. Provocative comment. I know we’re going to get some reaction but thanks for bringing the perspective today.

Patricia: Thank you.

Andrew: Patricia Adams, economist at Probe International.

Further Reading

China won’t cut back on its CO2 emissions

China’s climate power game

Distorted economy dooms China to an “airpocalypse”

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