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China smog mask

Chinese global warming increases but little action is likely

China is now responsible for 10 percent of global warming according to a new report in the Journal Nature.

The most obvious manifestation of the amount of pollution generated in China is in the poor air quality in its major cities.  In Beijing, smog is so bad that people routinely wear face masks to avoid the impact.  And concern about the health costs of pollution has caused the Chinese government to pursue policies aimed at curbing emissions.

While China is a major contributor of greenhouse gases, it is also the world’s leading user of renewable energy – primarily through new large-scale hydroelectric plants.  But the Chinese government is now facing the same dilemma as western governments – that a further shift away from fossil fuels risks damaging an economy that is already experiencing turbulence.

China’s economy depends upon consumption in the west.  And since our demand for cheap mass produced goods is unabated, the additional costs of China shifting away from coal use are likely to be unwelcome.  Were China to act fast and unilaterally, the risk is that other coal-burning economies – like India – will become more competitive.  China will lose out while greenhouse gas emissions will just increase elsewhere.

This is the practical manifestation of our predicament – to save our species we have to take actions that will undermine our economy.  We all sign up to this in theory… but none of us wants to change our lifestyles in ways that would make it happen.

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