China and Climate Change

Ooops ... The Financial Times reports today that China and India once again have rejected a cap on CO2 emissions -- and without these countries and the other large developing nations that will follow their lead, the world cannot seriously address the threat of climate change. China and India's response should be no surprise: as fast growing developing economies, their appetite for the energy that produces most of the CO2 increases sharply every year. Moreover, their modernization programs are concentrated in the most energy-intensive industries around - basic manufacturing and energy-intensive agriculture - while most of their own domestic energy supplies lie in coal, the most climate-damaging fuel. One way to move forward is to give them an alternative to a CO2 cap. Carbon-based taxes should be more appealing, since China and other fast-growing developing countries need more revenues to support the basic public goods of modernization -- infrastructure programs and greater access to education and health care. But that won't be enough: we will have to make it worth their while economically to join us, Europe and Japan in a global campaign to address climate change. That will mean offering them better and cheaper alternatives to the hundreds of coal-burning electricity plants they plan to build every year into the indefinite future. Better alternatives for the climate are widely available, for example, in hydropower or natural gas-fueled generating system, and perhaps soon, in solar and wind as well.

In the end, however, the United States, along with Europe and Japan, probably also will have to make those alternatives cheaper by providing large technology transfers at cut rates. And the United States is the only country that can make any of this happen, at least regarding China. As the largest foreign direct investor in China, its largest export market, and the guarantor of the sea and air lanes across which all of China's trade and oil supplies travel, China's leaders recognize America as the indispensable economic and military power for China's own progress. All we need is a president and administration prepared to use that position to advance the global agenda on climate change.

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