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Patricia Adams: China’s Climate Power Game

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Patricia Adams, Financial Post

China’s Communist party won’t curb the country’s CO2 emissions – doing so could lead to their overthrow

For President Obama to make good on his promise to stop the oceans from rising, he needs China’s Communist Party to agree to curb its CO2 emissions at the UN’s Climate Conference in Paris. This it will never do. China’s Communist Party knows that to stay in power – its highest priority – it must maintain the economic growth rates that have raised the incomes of much of its population and kept opposition at bay. Curbing fossil fuel use, China’s leaders understand, would dampen its already faltering growth and provide an existential threat to their rule. While they may talk a good game at the UN’s Paris talks, they will make no binding commitments to reduce C02.

Talking a good game on climate change will do more than deflect criticism from the West. It will also bring in billions in climate aid from the U.S. and other Western countries, and improve China’s international standing. Talking a good game will also serve Obama’s interests. He and Chinese President Xi signed a much-ballyhooed agreement last November, promising to produce a global agreement in Paris. In this, Obama’s last best opportunity to claim achievements on climate change, he will do whatever is necessary to ensure the conference culminates with grand statements and an agreement among the world’s leaders. What will be necessary is cash.

The cash is already forthcoming: by the U.S., which promised $3 billion; by Canada, which promised $2 billion; by Japan, which promised $1.5 billion; by the U.K., which promised $1.2 billion; and by France and Germany, which each promised just over $1 billion. These sums are in response to China’s demand of $100 billion a year by 2020 for itself and the rest of the developing world, after which the West is expected to up the amount to 1 per cent of its GDP. America’s contribution alone would then be some $230 billion annually and rising, Canada’s some C$25 billion annually and rising, or C$3,000 for a family of four.

Because China holds all the cards at Paris – as the world’s leading CO2 emitter, it knows the success of the talks depends entirely on the bones it will deign to throw to the West – it will also squeeze the West diplomatically. China sees its role at the talks – what it says it really wants to do and intends to do well – is to organize a Third World lobby to hold the West accountable based on “the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” The differentiated responsibilities require the developed countries to commit to legally binding CO2 reductions while the developing countries, subject to no legally binding targets, would merely commit to take “enhanced mitigation actions” funded by developed countries. […]

It is sometimes said that, unlike the tensions elsewhere between the two countries, the U.S. and China share goals over climate change. In fact, they mostly share a desire for pretence. At the Paris summit, Xi will pretend he’s serious about cutting back CO2 emissions and Obama will pretend that Xi’s pretence will help save the planet.

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