Zhu Yuan

Is low carbon in our long-term interest?

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-21 07:54
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Nationalists or radical nationalists tend to interpret what the United States or West is doing as a conspiracy to maintain their supremacy over developing countries.

The financial crisis was described as a conspiracy in a series of books titled War of Currency. The latest book, Carbon Empire (tanke diguo) by Bai Haijun, claims that global warming is a lie and the low-carbon economy a conspiracy by the US to maintain its position as the world's leading power.

A survey released by researchers at George Mason University found that more than one-quarter of TV weathercasters agreed with the statement "Global warming is a scam" and nearly two-thirds believed that, if global warming is occurring, it is caused "mostly by natural changes".

In a Gallup poll taken last month, 48 percent of respondents said that they believed the threat of global warming to be "generally exaggerated". This figure was up from 35 percent just two years ago. The same poll showed that only 52 percent of Americans believed that "most scientists believe that global warming is occurring", down from 65 percent in 2008.

While an increasing number of Americans consider global warming to be a scam, a number of Chinese people have proposed that it is a conspiracy of the US against developing countries.

We may need to wait 20 or 30 years to see whether global temperatures will really rise by the margins that some experts have anticipated.

The Americans can wait that long without doing anything to avert the trend of global warming, as there are not that many manufacturing factories or chemical plants to pollute their air. Global warming, if it is real, is not that immediate a threat to them.

But it is a totally different story for the Chinese people. Even if global warming is a lie as some have claimed, serious industrial pollution is an immediate reality in this country. There is no reason for us to fool ourselves by turning a blind eye to the fact that our sky is much more hazy than it used to be three decades ago. We can hardly deny that serious air pollution has a lot to do with the pollutants our industries emit or discharge.

It may be true that developed countries like the US want developing countries such as China to buy its new energy technology or technology to efficiently use traditional energy. But the issue is whether we need such technologies.

China's energy consumption per unit of GDP is at least 50 percent higher than that of developed countries. Reduction in discharged pollutants means an increase in energy efficiency, which will not just reduce the cost of industrial production but also the pollution from industries.

The majority of the world's most polluted cities are in China and more than 70 percent of our rivers are polluted beyond use. The number of lung cancer patients has also been on the rise because of air pollution. We cannot continue to be proud of what made-in-China brands have achieved for us in the past three decades without paying enough attention to the cost.

It will not help to merely interpret whatever the developed countries do to us as a conspiracy.

True, by cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide by a large margin, our economic growth will undoubtedly drop and as a result, we will not be able to create enough jobs. That will have negative impact on a populous nation like China at least in the short term. So it is reasonable for China and other developing countries to maintain a differentiated policy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, that does not mean we have enough reason to slacken our efforts in raising energy efficiency and reducing the pollutants our industries discharge. In other words, unreasonable pressure from developed countries on us to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by the amount we can hardly achieve should never justify our inadequate concern for environmental protection in the past three decades.

I agree with the author that China needs to have a roadmap of its own for its economic development and social progress, rather than blindly follow the path of developed countries. With a population four times that of the US, it is both unrealistic and unsustainable for Chinese people to live like their American counterparts.

The US per capita energy consumption is six times that of China's. With 5 percent of the world population, the US consumes 25 percent of the global energy resources. If we follow its development mode, it will not be just a disaster for China but also for the rest of the world.

Globalization does not necessarily mean a single development model for all countries. What matters is not whether global warming is a conspiracy, but whether a low-carbon economy is in the interest of our long-term and sustainable development.

E-mail: zhuyuan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 04/21/2010 page8)