China Energy Industry

Economics will trump CO2 reduction in China

Cutting CO2 emissions and economic growth are incompatible. The Chinese know it, whatever they said and signed in Paris. This article for the South African Independent Newspapers group highlights the recent Probe International study “The Truth about China” by Patricia Adams.

By Keith Bryer for IOL.com, January 27, 2016

China continues to burn more coal than the rest of the world combined. India plans to double its annual coal production by 2020. It is estimated that more than 2,000 new coal-fired power stations are under construction worldwide.

Facts like these make the cheers greeting the Paris climate treaty seem like so much hot air. Indeed, some climate alarmists already say the treaty is not worth its paper.

They wanted it to be legally binding with harsh penalties attached – moral suasion will not cut it.

Cynical observers note the Paris treaty’s only achievement is the creation of yet another UN body that will fly more of its bureaucrats around the world to check on which countries have been naughty and slap their wrists.

Diplomatic treacle awaits these latter-day puritans. A thankless task awaits them. But the stress will no doubt be soothed by their whopping UN salaries.

The truth is that the Paris negotiations reached consensus only because none of it is legally binding. The result is that the treaty has more than enough wriggle room. However, as China is the world’s second-biggest economy, it is above all what China does about its emissions that will be critical. So far, there is little evidence that it shares the climate change lobby’s obsession with carbon dioxide (CO2).

National interests

Western public opinion, and its free press, will not sway China’s leaders either. Street theatre involving clever masks and witty placards are not going to do it either. For China, the national interests always come first. Pleas to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to have much impact on a Chinese government that must prioritise economic growth. So what is China’s stance on saving the world from the predicted climate Armageddon, and its “Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)” to the fight against it?

The NDC is how the UN managed to get China to COP21 because it allows each country to set its own emission targets. The result is that it all comes down to interpretation.

The history of the past two decades of UN climate conferences is thin on evidence of real progress. Only the Kyoto “Agreement” was binding, but the US refused to ratify it, making its worthless. The fact that China never signed it in the first place made the agreement worth even less. However, 38 developed countries signed up.

As always, and clearly in the hope of more financial aid.

Some suspected it was in the expectation of increased financial aid rather than concern for the climate. China never signed.

Then Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia backed out in 2012 because of the heavy costs involved.

The Paris treaty last year was different. Everyone took the pledge. It was progress of a sort but time will tell if developing countries (and China regards itself as leader of the group) will turn their pledges into action. They have now made it clear that any action they take will depend on delivery of substantial amounts of new Western cash.

Coal consumption

Available figures suggest China’s coal consumption and the emissions that go with it will rise for at least the next decade if China is to grow. Even a necessary ban on coal and wood stoves in the cities will not make a dent in CO2 emissions.

China does not see CO2 as the bogeyman. It is more concerned with smog, and a groundswell of complaints from millions of its citizens forced to breathe it every day.

Smog is visible; it stinks, and is a serious health risk. It makes perfect sense to solve the smog problem before worrying about CO2, especially as every year 500,000 Chinese die from smog inhalation.

The argument of anti-CO2 enthusiasts that China’s smog problem will improve if it cuts invisible CO2 emissions does not have the popular appeal of returning clear skies to Chinese cities – as Europe and America have done.

This is also the view of Patricia Adams, an academic with impeccable environmental credentials. She is the executive director of Probe International, a Canadian non-governmental organisation that has been involved in the Chinese environmental movement, and founder of the World Rainforest Movement and the International Rivers Network.

In her recent study, “Why Beijing will resist demands for abatement”,*** published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, she points out that cutting CO2 emissions relies on prohibitively expensive technology that does not work very well.

In contrast, reducing nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide, which are key components of smog, is cheaper, more efficient and uses proven technology.

In other words, China could either retrofit scrubbers to coal-fired power station chimneys to emit less nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide, or forfeit economic growth by trying to eliminate a colourless gas we all breathe out continuously throughout the day.

China’s leadership knows that what it says to the climate change (um… community) about cutting CO2 emissions does not commit it to anything.

Economics always trumps an unproven theory. The simple fact is that cutting CO2 emissions and economic growth are incompatible. The Chinese know it, whatever they said and signed in Paris.

And what China does, other developing country will copy. The repost of the latter to any UN CO2 auditors may well turn out to be, “Show us the money first”.

Maybe, possibly, sooner rather than later, one hopes, developing countries will realise that if the climate is changing, the cause it is more likely to be the Sun rather than man’s puny efforts, and their hopes of getting huge amounts of money to avoid what cannot be avoided, will be dashed.

* Keith Bryer is a retired communications consultant.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

*** The full title of this study is “The Truth about China: Why Beijing will resist demands for abatement”.

Read the original version of this article at the publisher’s website here

Further reading

China won’t cut back on its CO2 emissions

Distorted economy dooms China to an “airpocalypse”

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