The Guardian • Issue #2078


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2078

Who’s the pariah?

How often do you hear the Western leaders, including Australia’s, point the finger at the People’s Republic of China as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and then say they will make stronger commitments if China does? All too often. A closer look shows that China is not the global climate change pariah. Yes, it is the largest current emitter in absolute terms but that does not tell the whole story.

Australia’s and the US’s emissions on a per capita basis are almost double those of China. Taken on a cumulative basis the US with four per cent of the world’s population is responsible for 25 per cent of emissions – emissions remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Compare this with China with almost 20 per cent of the world’s population which is responsible for 13 per cent.

Western governments conveniently ignore the provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which underpins the Kyoto and Paris Agreements as well as the Glasgow Summit. Adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit it focused on a green economy in the context of sustainable development, equity, and poverty eradication. The first Principle of Article 3 states: “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

The responsibilities of developing countries including China are different to those of industrialised countries whose development was built on the use of coal-fired power. Developed countries made a commitment to assist developing countries with finance and technology – commitments that have largely not been met. It took leading industrialised countries almost two centuries to reach their peak in emissions and begin winding them back in the 1980s. They have a target of net zero emissions by 2050. China on the other hand has only had a relatively short period of industrialisation and its emissions are not set to peak until 2030 and be reduced to net zero until 2060. This is in line with UNFCCC Principles. It is a remarkable achievement, even more so considering the hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty.

Environmental issues are a top priority in China as it transitions to a green development model. In the years between 2007 and 2022 the share of coal in power generation was reduced from 81 to 56 per cent. China is a world leader in zero emissions technology. Transport is responsible for around one fifth of carbon dioxide emissions globally. 98 per cent of the world’s electric buses are to be found in China with some major cities having electrified 100 per cent of their bus fleets. It is also a world leader in electric cars and one of the most energy efficient nations in the world. China has almost 40,000 km of electric high speed rail. It is carrying out a massive reforestation program.

How can it do this when rich industrialised countries like Australia and the US have not? The Chinese government has not been bought off by private, profit-driven fossil fuel companies. As a socialist society development is planned and based on the needs of society and the environment.

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