Is China outdoing US in curbing carbon?
Its plans to limit emissions and boost efficiency could undercut a key argument against carbon dioxide limits in the US.
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Such a large cut means China could end up by 2010 with "by far the most aggressive global warming pollution reduction policy of any country in the world," Douglas Ogden, director of the China Sustainable Energy Program at the Energy Foundation, an organization in San Francisco promoting renewable energy and efficiency in China and the US, wrote in an e-mail.Skip to next paragraph
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Much still hangs, however, on whether China can replicate the energy-efficient gains it made through 2000, Levine says. China once had 20,000 efficiency experts, since disbanded. Now the central government is demanding long-term efficiency gains from provinces, whose eyes are fixed more on short-term profit.
Still, if China's new efforts were recognized, it might deflate what Helme calls a pair of "myths" that are inhibiting Congress from acting on global warming.
One myth, he says, is that developing nations like China aren't taking meaningful action to curb emissions. Another is that China and other developing nations, like Brazil, will be pollution havens that suck jobs out of the US. (An exception to the rule so far may be India, he says.)
Several new bills, including one proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico, include an "off ramp" to allow the US to back out of its emissions-reduction program if China does not do its part.
Domenici isn't yet satisfied, however. And in the House of Representatives, Democrats such as Rep. John Dingell of Michigan and Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia are worried about China gaining an unfair advantage. A number of Republicans, meanwhile, are digging in their heels even more. "You cannot have a legislative package that passes the House of Representatives that does not have an enforceable, meaningful mechanism to include the developing world, especially the Chinese," said Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas in hearings last month.
But if Congress doesn't recognize China's actions, the US might end up delaying climate-change policy for no good reason, some say. "For some lawmakers, their opposition has turned from 'we shouldn't do this because climate change isn't occurring' to 'we shouldn't do this because what we do has no meaning if China doesn't act,' " says Kyle Danish, a partner at Van Ness Feldman, a Washington law firm specializing in energy and environmental issues.
Business and labor groups, in an unusual moment of alignment, say emissions credits should be required for imported goods manufactured using energy- and CO2-intensive processes.
"Imposition of emission controls by some but not all major emitting nations disrupts the competitive trade balance between nations and inappropriately shifts jobs to countries without emissions controls, where manufacturing costs will be less," wrote American Electric Power president Michael Morris in an opinion piece in Energy Daily coauthored with Edwin Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Despite China's official hard line – government representatives are adamant that China won't curb emissions if it compromises economic growth – there are glimmers of flexibility. Earlier this month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an agreement to work on a successor to the Kyoto treaty.
But if the Chinese are acting to curb global warming, Congress needs to see that in clearer ways, some say. "We in the US would be better off to deal with the reality of what China is doing rather than the perception of where China stands," Levine says.