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China’s Motives on Climate and Energy

May 3, 2010

Mark Lynas, the author of “Six Degrees” and an  adviser to the president of Maldives on climate policy, wrote in following my post yesterday touching on China’s stance in the entwined arenas of climate and energy policy:

But this still begs the question: What is China’s strategy? My feeling is that it’s all about sovereignty. I think they take low carbon seriously, but don’t want to be seen to be doing anyone’s bidding on this, particularly not that of hated colonial barbarians. If I was Premier Wen, however, I would have worked to bid up other countries’ targets … and then sold them the clean tech to get there, rather than wiping all targets off the board completely…. As to the U.S., well, the longer it holds out, the more of a dinosaur it becomes. I can’t see America being a technology winner in the next century with the current politics on climate.

We had a mini-chat, in which I replied:

I agree on sovereignty and on the strategic angle you propose. My sense is that they take green tech seriously as a global business sector and a way, internally, to limit coal and oil demand and dependence, but I don’t perceive the Chinese taking low carbon seriously as an internal policy goal (if that means  a carbon intensity trajectory more than a nudge below what will happen anyway for other reasons).

Here’s Lynas’s last word:

As I’ve said before, as far as anyone can divine, the Chinese leadership’s primary ambition is growth — both economically and in the country’s international political power, though the two are obviously intertwined. Growth will enable the Party to deliver more riches to its citizens and thereby cement its control domestically, too. In such a delicate situation, would a low-carbon goal which was seriously implemented affect that growth? Who can say? No developing country has yet demonstrated that low-carbon growth is doable without any sacrifice in future prosperity, though several (including the Maldives) aim to try. As it becomes clearer, however, that low-carbon development is a real option which will still deliver the Party’s core objectives, I suspect (or rather hope!) the Chinese will move incrementally towards stronger policies.

What’s your take on China’s stance on energy and climate?

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