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China & India will end up complying with US demands on greenhouse gas mitigation

The current environmental situation in countries such as China and India is poor – China’s citizens are getting richer but increasingly living in a rubbish dump. But, with respect to climate change and other environmental problems, China is altering its policy view towards being much more environmentally protective. I don’t think it has altered its commitment to mainly pursuing ‘no regrets’ policies – it is just coming to understand that climate change will severely damage its agricultural sector. No regrets options now include contributing towards the global mitigation effort.

To quote The Economist:

‘The vast and sparsely populated Tibetan plateau is the origin of the great river systems of China, South-East and South Asia: the Yangzi and Yellow Rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Indus, the Mekong and the Salween. The Ganges rises on the Indian side of the plateau’s Himalayan rim. These rivers, fed by thousands of Himalayan glaciers, are an ecological miracle. They support some 1.3 billion people.

But the glaciers are retreating. Chinese experts predict that by 2050 the icy area on their side of the Himalayas will have shrunk by more than a quarter since 1950. Predictions for the Indian side are gloomier still’.

China sees its agricultural output as declining 5-10% by 2030. In India the figure is estimated to be closer to a catastrophic 30-40%. China now recognises its role as the major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is committed to cutting emissions. India is dragging its feet partly because half its population is still not linked to electricity supplies and there are widespread fuel subsidies.

The attitude of India is foolish if understandable: A senior official in the India’s foreign ministry characterises the US line of urging developing countries to cut their emissions as: “Guys with gross obesity telling guys just emerging from emaciation to go on a major diet.”

This is foolish logic because, irrespective of the ‘rights’ of developing countries to damage the global environment to the same extent as the US, they will suffer much greater damages from failing to mitigate. The local benefits from mitigation are much greater in India and China than they are in the US.

Indeed, whatever the moral arguments advanced the US is in the box seat in terms of bargaining options for negotiating a global greenhouse agreement post-Kyoto. It will insist on developing country mitigation efforts and will get them.

Update: Of course the optimism about China must be tempered with some statistical realities – it has just extended its lead as the world’s largest CO2 emitter. Last year it provided 2/3 of the worl’d increased CO2 emissions.

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