China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Saturday, December 17, 2005

China's pollution pass hurts U.S.

Peter A. Brown COMMENTARY December 16, 2005 The key issue blocking American cooperation with international efforts to deal with climate change is a global affirmative-action philosophy that penalizes the U.S. economy. So far, there is no indication the folks pushing mandatory limits on greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide will change their paradigm that gives China and India an edge over the United States. The United States did not ratify the 1997 Kyoto agreement that called for such limits. Since then, America has been widely criticized by environmentalists worldwide and many friendly governments. The U.S. opposition mostly stems from the parts of the agreement that would impose on it much more stringent requirements than on some of its economic competitors -- especially those two rising Asian giants. Once again, when the nations of the world met in Montreal this month to come up with a post-Kyoto game plan, they failed to address those existing inequities. The requirements that Kyoto wanted to impose on the United States are costly, would make U.S. products more expensive in a highly competitive global economy, and almost certainly mean the further loss of jobs to lower-priced competitors. Kyoto did not set the same stringent requirements on limiting emissions in developing countries that it did for those with mature economies like the United States. That was based on the drafters' view that the industrialized world has damaged the Earth by burning pollution-causing fossil fuels in order to reach prosperity. In that manner, their approach is similar to U.S. domestic affirmative-action programs aimed to help historically underprivileged minorities. Just as those programs often set lower standards in competitive situations for favored groups, Kyoto did not require developing nations to meet the same pollution targets as industrialized countries. Because reducing emissions is costly, not having to meet such goals gives those developing nations a leg up in the global economy. Among the lesser-developed group exempted from the requirements are India and China. They have been taking jobs and wealth from the United States and other industrialized nations at a breathtaking pace. In the interim, they have paid little or no attention to environmental costs. Meanwhile, many of the industrialized nations that signed the accord have not been able to cut their emissions as they promised. The treaty's drafters failed to appreciate the rapid economic growth that even then was going on in Asia. In the years since, China has become the world's second-leading producer of greenhouse gases. Projections are that in the next quarter-century China will pass the United States and become No. 1. At the Montreal meeting, the United States refused once again to commit to future limits on greenhouse gases. No effort was made there to change the affirmative-action approach. "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge," conceded British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country is a supporter of the Kyoto movement. Of course, it is easy to back the Kyoto targets for those not in power, whose constituents' livelihoods are not on the line. Former President Bill Clinton went to Montreal to criticize the U.S. policy. Yet when he was in office, he refused to submit the agreement for Senate ratification because he knew it had zero chance of passage. He knew that because, in 1997, the U.S. Senate had unanimously -- that means Democrats and Republicans -- backed a resolution telling Clinton not to sign any treaty on emissions that "would result in serious harm to the economy." When George W. Bush took office, he ended all pretenses that the United States might follow Kyoto's guidelines. He has refused to agree to mandatory limits since, which was the U.S. stance in Montreal. So what's next? The Montreal crowd is going ahead with plans for further cutbacks in emissions even without U.S. cooperation. They are betting the next U.S. president will be more amenable to mandatory climate-control limits on industry. They may be correct, but what they are asking of the United States will be a hard sell to the American people, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. It will be hard to see presidential candidates in 2008 going to Ohio -- the difference-maker in 2004, where jobs have been disappearing overseas -- calling for American sacrifice when the Chinese and Indians aren't willing to make the same concessions.


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