Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The China-Copenhagen Syndrome

The Guardian reports that China was responsible for making Copenhagen much less comprehensive than it could have been, while avoiding any public responsibility for it. This sounds plausible to me - they take global warming seriously there, with energy efficiency, carbon sequestration, renewable power, and nuclear power all getting significant investment, while at the same time pumping out as many coal plants as possible. Coal power plants are meant to run for 30 years or more. China wants to keep its options open.

Maybe this has something to do with the resistance to China's call for reparations - why write a climate-related check to a country that is screwing up attempts to address climate. I'm sympathetic to this resistance regarding China, whose per-capita emissions may be one third of the US but are still far too high. Other countries, however, have done far less to increase CO2 concentrations, and to tell them that we get the benefit of polluting while they have to hold back the same as we do isn't going to cut it.

Matt Yglesias misses the point by apparently believing climate debt presents a binary choice of blank checks for dictators, or doing nothing to rectify past emissions (his choice). I think we can be a little more subtle than that.

And while I'm being cranky, the New York Times misses the point on focusing on safety concerns for China's nuclear expansion by neglecting the alternative - even more coal plants. Coal pollution kills thousands each year here in the US - I can't imagine the numbers in China. A nuclear meltdown every couple decades would kill far fewer people. I'm not a huge fan of nukes due to costs, nuclear weapons proliferation, exposure to terrorism and (in the US) restriction on legal liability, but safety isn't an issue.

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