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The Big Shift

May 23, 2013 – China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has proposed a cap on greenhouse gas emissions produced by the world’s largest emitter.  Experts say the NDRC is extremely influential (would that the EPA could say the same!), and is now working with a government whose views regarding climate change have made a sudden and dramatic shift.  In order for the proposal to be adopted, it must be approved by the government’s cabinet, known as the State Council.  It would appear that is likely to happen.  Furthermore, the NDRC said it now expects China’s greenhouse gas emissions to peak in 2025, five years sooner than expected.
This announcement has been received with great excitement, particularly by those who have struggled long and hard to bring about a global agreement regarding a reduction in emissions.  Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientist, acclaimed the NDRC’s proposal as a “big shift” capable of unblocking negotiations between the U.S. and China.  “Without an agreement between these two major players, it is hard to see how an agreement can be reached in 2015,” Parr went on to explain.  Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a 2006 report for the British government, echoed Parr’s sentiments: “Such an important move should encourage all countries, and particularly the other large emitters such as the United States, to take stronger action on climate change.”  Stern’s report is considered by many as the world’s single most influential political document about climate change.  Lord Stern is the chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change in London.

UK Climate and Energy Change Secretary Ed Davey has re-assessed the global situation in light of China’s announcement, and says he is confident there will be an “ambitious” climate change deal in 2015.  While everyone involved must hope his optimism is well placed, his assertion that there has been a “fantastic and dramatic change in America’s position” strikes me as overblown.  Then again, if President Obama intends to lend his support to an international agreement, one being drawn up in 2015 would be his last chance to do so.  What chance it would have by then of being ratified by the U.S. Congress doesn’t bear thinking about.
That China’s government is being so responsive to its citizens demands surely throws some light on its reaction to the 50,000 protests caused by environmental problems in the last two years.  Does the word “ironic” even begin to describe the current political situation?  The Communist government of China chooses discretion over valor in meeting its people’s demands, while America’s government makes its contempt for the will of the people ever more obvious!

On the other hand, does it really matter if the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions subside because of a binding agreement, or because they “just do?”  Does our exceptionalism extend that far?  Is China in any position to renege on their newfound ecological sensibility, or is forward the only direction realistically available to them?  Is the imprimatur of the world’s leading democracy really so essential?  Would the climate treaty always be found wanting because of America’s failure to endorse it?

Does it matter how we get from here to there?


With thanks to the Independent (UK).


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