Sparring in Sydney

China and the US clashed over climate change ahead of this weekend’s APEC summit in Sydney, as President Bush tried to persuade Asian and Pacific leaders to follow America’s road-map for the struggle against global warming.

Bush joined Australia’s John Howard in calling for China and other emerging economies to accept responsibility for climate change, and to take measures to mend their greenhouse-gas emitting ways. The proposals raised eyebrows - APEC, a trade group, isn’t an obvious platform for high-level climate talks - and earned a polite rebuff from Chinese President Hu Jintao, who said he’d be happy to see APEC issue a joint declaration, as long as it stated that the UN, not APEC, was the correct forum for such discussions.

Hu’s response was a jab at Bush and Howard’s ulterior motive for the proposal. Both leaders are Kyoto skeptics, and want to tackle global warming with technology rather than tough emissions cuts. By brokering an agreement at APEC, they hoped to strengthen their hand ahead of the coming UN negotiations, where it’ll be harder for them to dictate the agenda.

But the clash also highlighted Beijing’s resistance to Western attempts to dictate its environmental policies. The scale of China’s environmental problems is legendary: As its economy has boomed, it’s become the world’s largest producer of both sulphur dioxide and greenhouse gases. It is notorious for its smog, poisoned water, and acid rain. By 2020, China’s rising air pollution will cause 20 million cases of respiratory illness a year.

Still, Bush should remember that while the US produces far more carbon per capita, China has already committed to cut its energy intensity by a fifth by 2010. She’s signaled her willingness to join international climate talks, and has pledged to spend more than a quarter of a trillion dollars on renewable energy by 2020. And unlike US lawmakers, Chinese leaders have rejected filthy liquified-coal projects. Meanwhile, public transport planners in Dalian could teach their counterparts in LA a thing or two.

Scientists say that while the US is better at enforcing environmental regulations, in some areas it’s actually China that has the better policies. That doesn’t make China a paragon of green virtue; far more is needed, and world leaders should keep the pressure on. A particularly tough debate is expected this month in Montreal, where Western leaders will call for China to slash her HCFC emissions. But as the climate talks move forward, America should remember that her demands will carry more moral force if she first sets her own house in order.


Thanks for the informative article, just a small question though: I know, and read, that China has surpassed the U.S. in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, but what about the other little known but potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide?

When the reader reads that China has overtaken the U.S., please bear in mind the entirity of the picture. China has a population of 1.3 billion while the U.S. pop. is around 300 million. So per capita, the U.S. emits roughly 4 times more carbon dioxide (or GHG) than China. In terms of responsibility, the historical contribution to the current climate situation should be borne in mind - while many Americans have enjoyed decades, and longer, of being well-off, the average Chinese person is only now beginning to have an improved quality of life brought about by modernity. Also, very importantly, included in the tally is the manufacturing that China has outsourced to it - all the luxury goods that are enjoyed in developed countries such as the U.S.
It is possible for the American to enjoy quality of life while drastically reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and associated energy intense lifestyles - these figures have been measured. All you need to do is figure out how, and to change your lifestyle today, for the benefit of every citizen and creature on planet earth.