Bush-like doubletalk from Chinese foreign minister

air-pollution-systems.jpgThe Foreign Minister of China, Yang Jiechi, gave a talk at CGI that would have made President Bush — or Frank Luntz — proud. Gristmill may have liked the rhetoric, but I (and a number of others I spoke to in NY) thought the comments were divorced from reality, pure spin.

You can judge for yourself from the entire transcript, which I will excerpt and comment on here because I think the speech is much more important and ominous than Bush’s recent climate speech. After all, Bush will be gone soon, but if this speech reflects China’s view of the climate problem, we are all in deep, deep trouble. Yang says

A review of history shows that climate change occurs in the course of development. It is both an environment issue and a development issue. But ultimately, it is a development issue.

Uhh, not really. He presumably meant to say “rising greenhouse gases (GHGs)” instead of “climate change.” And he presumably means to imply that you can’t have development without climate change/GHGs.

If climate change is “ultimately” a development issue — rather than an issue of how countries choose to develop as Bill Clinton said at CGI repeatedly — then China would appear to be absolving itself of any responsibility for the approaching environmental apocalypse. The doubletalk then flies fast and furious:

Efforts to tackle climate change should promote economic development and not be pursued at the expense of the economic development.

On the other hand, we must not fail to see that the economic development model of high-energy consumption, high pollution, and high emissions is not sustainable. And the path of pursuing development first and treating pollution next is not a viable one.

The best environment policy is also the best economic policy. (Applause) Countries should all incorporate environmental protection into their overall economic development strategies and take resolute measure to follow a path of sustainable development.

Well, yes — but this is all very disingenuous coming from the country building a coal plant every week, whose soaring carbon dioxide emissions are overwhelming all other global emissions trends.

If any strategy describes China’s current path, it is “high-energy consumption, high pollution, and high emissions” and “pursuing development first and treating pollution next.” And that ain’t viable for global warming with its dangerous tipping points and amplifying feedbacks.

The Chinese seem to be trying to make as much money as they can from building new coal plants until they are forced to stop — and then they’ll probably insist the West pay them to shut the plants down.

China has contributed its share to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by carrying out a series of policy measures, including economic adjustment, improving the energy mix, raising energy efficiency and forestation.

Statistics show that by raising energy efficiency alone, China saved 800 million tons of standard coal from 1991 to 2005 and the equivalent of reducing 1.8 billion tons of CO2.

China has set the targets of reducing energy intensity by 20 percent, reducing discharge of majoring pollutants by 10 percent, and the increasing forest cover from 18.2 percent to 20 percent for the period between the end of 2005 and 1010.

All these steps show the Chinese Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Uhh, no. This is even worse than Bush’s speech. It is an outright fabrication to claim “China has contributed its share to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.” China is now the biggest contributor to soaring global GHGs. China’s emissions have exploded since 2000, when it basically walked away from two decades of energy efficiency programs.

Just how meaningless is this claim — “China saved 800 million tons of standard coal from 1991 to 2005”? What China took 15 years of major energy efficiency programs to save it now burns every four or five months! Yang says

China will remain the largest developing country for long time to come…. For developing countries like China, whose level of economic development is still low and whose people are yet to live a better life, the most depressing issue for them is to grow the economy and raise people’s living standards.

Maybe so, but China isn’t Haiti or Ethiopia or Vietnam. China has massively industrialized, burns twice as much coal as we do, and probably emits more carbon dioxide than we do. China shouldn’t expect it can hide behind the moniker “developing country” for “a long time to come.”

China is a major industrializing, polluting nation and needs to take some responsibility for its contribution to a global environmental problem that threatens the prosperity of its people and the entire world for 50 generations to come. The talk ends with some ominous news:

Not long an ago a leading group was set up in the Chinese Foreign Ministry to provide guidance to China’s diplomatic efforts to address climate change. As China’s foreign minister, I am the head of this group.

With this guy in charge of China’s diplomatic efforts to address climate change, the world would appear to be getting a new master of climate doubletalk just as the old one is becoming a lame-duck.

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6 Responses to Bush-like doubletalk from Chinese foreign minister

  1. Jörg Haas says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog and I quite often link to ist from my German blog. But I think in this case, you are overreacting. I know, Chinas growth is mindboggling if you look at the skyscrapers of Shanghai. But this is only a small part of this country, which is at the same time struggling with massive poverty. And you know quite well that climate change ist not an issue of actual (yearly) emissions, but of the cumulative emissions. And in this respect, the US and other developed countries will still for very many years bear the main responsibility for climate change.
    I think the right approach for a fair burden sharing is one based on responsibility and capability, principles enshrined in the Framework Convention on Climate Change. A very interesting implementation of these principles was now proposed by EcoEquity in their paper “The right to development in a carbon constrained world”
    I consider this approach ethically absolutely justifiable, even if its results are hard to swallow for the North. I would be curious to learn about your opinion on this.

  2. David B. Benson says:

    I prefer the Biopact approach:

  3. Shannon says:

    The Chinese seem to be heading 100 miles per hour in opposite directions. But that is an improvement in just heading 100 mph in the direction of coal. Though I agree with you that I have not seen anything concrete to make me optimistic about China, I have been reading reports from the delegates of the UN Convention, CGI, and the Bush Climate Summit that indicate that they were much more optimistic about China this go-round. So maybe there were positive signals that did not make it to the sound bytes.

  4. Olin C. says:

    Dear Jorg,

    Thanks for commenting and welcome aboard!

  5. Joe says:

    Jorg — thanks for the comment. Obviously, as an American, I have no moral authority to criticize any other country’s climate policy. I thought of putting that caveat in this post, but then I’d really have to put that caveat in every post. Maybe I will do a separate post on this.

    Certainly, the United States must completely reverse its climate policy before it can ask countries like China to reverse theirs.

    That said, China’s development strategy is bordering on rapacious and irresponsible. They must know their explosive growth in coal consumption is unsustainable, just from the perspective of urban air pollution. And global warming will hit their country hard — maybe even harder than it hits the US. So their policy is ultimately self-destructive — as is America’s.

    I have a chapter in my book that sums up my view — “The U.S.-China suicide pact on climate.” Our two countries could well ruin this planet for everyone else if we continue on our current paths.

  6. yy says:

    I just don’t know what you are complaining about while most american are driving SUVs but Chinese are riding bicycles, while Americans are living in big three-level houses with air conditioners all year long but most Chinese families are living in apartments.
    I think what you are dreaming of may be the american continent at indian times,400 hundred years ago. I really want to share your view on development and climate change and also the right to live a better life.