Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Gramsci-Schwarzenegger dialectic: China, the U.S. and climate change politics

In his second Reith Lecture, Survival in the Anthropocene (recorded in Beijing and first broadcast last night), Jeffrey Sachs predicted that the same logic that had led to the Montreal Protocol would lead to a new and comprehensive framework for addressing climate change by 2010.

Writing in the Washington Post last Sunday (Clearing the Air With China), Orville Schell made this proposal for China and US co-operation:
How should we proceed? By forming a coalition of respected scientists, business leaders and policy experts, calling a high-level emergency summit with their counterparts in China and then enlisting the U.S. presidential candidates to pledge to make the coal/climate change issue a priority. The ultimate goal should be to undertake a $25 billion collaborative effort, with the United States providing capital, technological know-how and entrepreneurial and managerial skills and China providing some resources of its own, research, critical leadership among developing countries, its low-cost manufacturing base and its prodigious market energy.
Schell is probably be right to highlight the future of coal as a central technical challenge. Sachs picked up on this too, emphasising the potential importance of carbon capture and storage. But in the question and answer session after Sach's lecture it was questions of governance and politics that came to the fore, not least in a question from Ma Jun.

Last November I wrote on chinadialogue that it was time for a politics of climate change in China. I do think that political issues are still a central challenge [see note 1 below] -- a point that appears reinforced by the reported role of the Chinese government, among others, in watering down the summary of IPCC WGII (climate impacts).

For this reason I would add to the list for Schell's coalition civil society actors and (to the surprise of some)...the military. As noted on this blog here, it does look like people with influence on the US military really are beginning to 'get' the issues, and it would be nice to think they might engage with their Chinese counterparts.

So, note to Schell et al: please add the likes of Ma Jun and Anthony C. Zinni to the list of candidates for your coalition.

[Note 1: 'political' in both a narrow and a broad sense, the broad one being politics, culture and values as they interact with and within the technological and scientific sphere. In this case, cultural change might thrive on a 'Gramsci-Schwarzenegger dialectic', synthesising (an ahimsa mediated version of) Antonio's insights into the importance of culture with Arnie on being hip.]

[P.S. 20 April: On ClimatePolicy Paul Higgins asks So what's the problem with China?]

[P.S. 24 April: The Financial Times reports 'China delays climate change plan indefinitely'. See here.]

1 comment:

Caspar Henderson said...

China delays climate change plan indefinitely
By Richard McGregor in Beijing
Financial Times, April 23 2007 21:48

China has delayed indefinitely its national “action plan” on climate change, which was due to be released on Monday after exhaustive consultations among ministries in Beijing and provincial and local governments.

No explanation was given for the move, although global warming is causing increasing international concern about the country’s high-speed economic growth model. China has delayed the long-awaited release of its policy response to climate change, an issue that is increasingly focusing international attention on the country’s high-speed economic growth model.

The action plan would be China’s first considered response to the latest science on climate change and would provide the basis for its position in negotiations for a possible post-Kyoto international accord.

China has resisted setting mandatory targets for emissions but will propose cutting emissions of greenhouse gases per unit of economic output by 40 per cent from 2000 to 2020, according to Reuters.

China is responsible for only a small portion of greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere but is likely to become the largest emitter in the world as early as this year, according to the International Energy Agency.

The country is facing a potentially devastating impact from climate change, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on China and Asia, part of which was released in Beijing on Monday. “Climate change has become a social and economic problem for China,” said Zheng Guoguang, director of China’s Meteorological Administration.

Global warming threatened longer droughts and cuts to farm production, as well as higher rainfall in some areas, leading to “heavier economic losses and loss of lives in southern China”, said the report released by the CMA.

The supply of water to China’s most important waterways, the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, would also be reduced by the melting of glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet highlands in the west.

Qin Dahe, a co-chair of one IPCC working group, said the glaciers had shrunk by about a quarter in the past 350 years but that global warming would accelerate that trend, with another 25 per cent of the icecaps disappearing by 2050. “Glaciers are vital to the national economy and people’s livelihood,” Mr Qin said.

Output of all China’s staple farm products, including rice, grain and meat, faces substantial cuts because of changing climate conditions.
The country’s arable land was shrinking to dangerously low levels because of polluted water, overuse of fertilisers and contamination from heavy metals and solid waste, the Ministry of Land and Resources said on Monday. In addition, rising sea levels posed a long-term threat to China’s coastal cities, which are the powerhouse of its economy and the nation’s wealthiest areas.

Luo Yong, deputy director of the National Climate Centre, a body under the CMA, said sea levels along the Chinese coast had been rising faster than the global average over the past half­century. “Coastal areas, including the Yangtze river delta [around Shanghai], are greatly threatened by the rise in sea level,” he said.

The surge in China’s emissions of greenhouse gases is the result of not just its fast economic growth but also huge investments in the past five years in heavy industry, such as steel, aluminium and cement plants.

The dominance of coal in China’s power generation is the key to its high emissions relative to the size of the economy. Every year China is adding more than the entire power generation capacity of the UK in coal-fired plants alone.

China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol but remains opposed to accepting mandatory cuts in emissions, which it regards as interfering with the country’s right to develop.