Chen Weihua

No distraction from green revolution

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-15 06:39

Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize a year ago for raising global awareness of climate change. Yet the former US vice-president has clearly not succeeded in convincing fellow Americans about the urgency of immediate action.

He is still fighting a tough battle at home.

That's probably why Gore has repeatedly cited China's huge efforts in developing clean and renewable energy, such as from solar and wind resources, as a way to prod the US into action. The same China example was used by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, another powerful voice for the green revolution.

There could be multiple reasons for naming China: If even a poor country like China can do it, why can't the rich US? Or if China takes the lead in clean energy, it would mean a further decline of US power on the world stage.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution a week ago, US President Barack Obama said the country which leads in clean energy will lead the world. He wanted the US to be that country.

Unfortunately, the calls from Obama, Gore and Friedman have not drawn as much attention in the US as the Climate-gate emails and other issues such as high unemployment, an escalating war in Afghanistan or Tiger Woods' indefinite break from golf.

Climate-gate has triggered great excitement. So while the rest of the world is busy finding a solution to deal with the climate crisis, many Americans are still debating whether climate change is really happening. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, is again in the spotlight as the chief denier of human activities having an impact on global warming. Sadly, her support seems to be on the rise.

Although US Senators John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham have recently sent out a message trying to tell the world that US climate change legislation is still alive, strong opposition in the Senate and some other groups is even more alive. That includes many of Obama's fellow Democrats from more than a dozen coal producing states.

With such a dire situation, it is impossible for the US to make any major pledge at Copenhagen - a pledge that would resonate as a world leader. That is probably why the US chief climate negotiator Todd Stern tried hard to divert attention to China, instead of talking about the US' role and responsibility.

While stressing that China is the largest carbon emitter, Stern is apparently not interested in letting people know that although China's total emissions are slightly higher than the US, its per capita emissions rank 96th in the world, according to the latest data from the International Energy Agency.

US per capita carbon emissions are four times higher, let alone historic emissions, which were mainly contributed by the US and other developed countries.

It would be cruel for Stern to tell people in underdeveloped parts of China, India and other developing countries that they should not have access to electricity and flush toilets, because they will add to carbon emissions.

That said, this is not a time for a blame game. With global warming threatening our planet, the only moral thing to do for each nation is to take voluntary action.

The good thing is that China has not been distracted by Climate-gate. Nor should the pace of its green revolution be slowed by the disappointment at the US for a lack of leadership. Pursuing a low-carbon path of development is ultimately for the good of China itself.

Severe environmental hazards are causing great harm to 1.3 billion Chinese and future generations. Clean water, air and proper and timely precipitation are now among the few scarce commodities in the country.

Even if the frequent mentioning of China by Obama, Gore and Friedman can't prod the US into action, it would be great for China to be inspired to continue its green revolution, only more aggressively.