Taking on the “China Excuse” for inaction

On October 11, one of CAP’s interns, Zoe Brown, attended an Innovation Symposium with a handful of climate-concerned characters (see below). Here are her thoughts:

“The Atlantic and BMW sponsored From Ideas to Solutions: Overcoming the Challenge of Climate Change, held at the Meridian International Center Meyer-White House. The panel discussion included Nancy Kete from the World Resources Institute, Gregg Easterbrook from Brookings, John Podesta from the Center for American Progress, and moderator Jason Grumet from the National Commission on Energy Policy.

Many issues were covered by the panelists, but what struck me as especially relevant was their discussion of the U.S.’s role on the international scene. The panelists took this opportunity to address the U.S.’s use of the ‘China excuse.’

The panelists agreed that the U.S. must set the precedent on greenhouse gas reductions, rather than wait for China or India to do so. When addressing why these countries haven’t taken any of the steps toward reductions, Kete explained, it’s necessary to keep in mind their respective levels of development. She went on to say that these countries do know how bad it is — remember the controversy over China’s effort to block the World Bank from publishing the estimated number of deaths linked to air pollution in China?


Podesta agreed with Kete, stating that China faces a particularly complex political challenge because their economy is based primarily on growth, and often this big push for growth overtakes their concern for efficiency. And, he went on, India is still relying on coal. Both India and China face complicated political problems, and the U.S. needs to deploy its technology to these and other developing nations and join an international agreement to combat global warming.

There is a slight glimmer of hope for developing countries, Kete pointed out. As with countries like China, much of future generations will be living in cities that have yet to be built. This brings about two big opportunities — (1) when cities expand, what Kete calls ‘eco-blocs’ can be built, creating a green built environment for people to live in (and this new industry of green building will create jobs, thus quenching China’s desire for economic expansion — a development the U.S. is currently discussing); and (2) public transportation can be reformed to become less energy intensive.

Bottom line: these experts agree that the U.S. should not depend heavily on action initiated by either China or India before staking out its own policy, and it can no longer use the ‘China excuse’ to justify its inaction.”