Mending news

In his keynote speech last Thursday to the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist party, retiring President Hu Jintao said:

Energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP as well as the discharge of major pollutants should decrease sharply.

Source: Leslie Hook for the Financial Times (paywall); summarised here.
This wasn´t a toe-dipping aside like Obama´s. A lot of the speech was similar bold talk about pollution, energy and the environment.

We´ll see what Hu´s anointed successor Xi Jinping has to say at the end of the week, but we can take it for granted that this is the new party line. The baton being passed is green-tipped.

China has already taken huge strides to expand renewable energy – the latest targets for 2015, only 3 years away, include 100 GW for wind, 21 GW for solar, 13 GW for biomass, and a frankly incredible 50 GW for ocean energy and 120 GW for geothermal-and-tidal power lumped strangely together. But SFIK internationally Chinese oficials have always framed their plans as leading to reductions in the carbon intensity of GDP, not absolute reductions. China has finally joined the club of climate realists, and President Obama now has a wide opening for new climate diplomacy.

And hats off to the millions of Chinese environmental activists and protestors who have forced the oligarchy to change course.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

10 thoughts on “Mending news”

  1. The complaint about Obama’s lack of loud leadership on climate change may be justified, but it’s poor judgment to compare his leadership to China’s. Perhaps Chinese policy is good in this case, but the leadership of the Communist party doesn’t have to deal with a Republican House of Representatives, or really any significant democratic process. I’m not happy that we haven’t been able to make more progress on climate change, but to act as if President Obama’s political situation is equivalent to Hu’s is ridiculous. And I for one would rather be a citizen of the United States and a participant in its political system, with all its faults, than be subject to China’s, where people as outspoken as James have been known to end up under house arrest or worse.

    1. I´m lost. What is your comment a response to?
      [Update] Ah, I see, it´s the toe-dipping sentence. I didn´t mean to present Hu´s and Obama´s situations and options as remotely equivalent, still less hold up the Chinese political system as a model. But give the Chinese oligarchs (my term and not one of praise) credit, they are doing the right thing here. These aren´t the kind of public statements that can easily be walked back.
      Of course Obama has been under terrific external constraints. But you can compare his leadership from the front on say the expiry of tax cuts for the rich, DADT, and ACA, rather unfavourably to his decision to shelve talk of climate change until the election was over and he´d won Ohio and Pennsylvania. Like many others, I hope his victory speech portends a shift in priorities and style.

      1. DADT repeal broke the Senate filibuster with the vote of every Democrat and Independent (except Manchin, who abstained for whatever reason) and six Republican senators. The ACA, as I’m sure you know, broke the Senate filibuster during the few months when there were 58 Democrats and two independents in the Senate, with every Republican voting against (one abstention amounts to the same thing). Expiry of tax cuts for the rich doesn’t require a vote.

        As I remember, Obama did lobby reasonably hard for the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill, and it did pass the House, but could never get 60 votes in the Senate to break the filibuster. Maybe you could argue that he should’ve tried to pass it when he had 60 votes in the Senate, but I don’t think he would ever have been able to corral all the Democrats, in particular the senators from West Virginia.

        It’s true that Obama hasn’t been leading on climate change ever since he lost the 60th vote in the Senate. But I don’t think you can say he never led on it, nor that he would’ve been able to get anything done about it if he had (unless he’d loudly urged the Democrats to drop the nuclear option on the filibuster).

        1. It´s more the contrast in his and his party´s behaviour after he lost the House in 2010. The Dems have been fighting and campaigning all the time on taxe; they simply gave up on climate change. It´s not serious to deny now that Obama has a mandate to let the Bush tax cuts for high brackets expire. He does not have a mandate for a carbon tax. This may have been the best achievable; but don´t ask me to cheer.

  2. I read him as saying exactly what they have said before: lowering carbon intensity for their GDP. New is a reduction in major pollutants. Unless China now thinks carbon dioxide is a major pollutant, what has changed?

    1. Hu also said “We should launch a revolution in energy production and consumption, impose a ceiling on total energy consumption, save energy and reduce its consumption.” Together with the already announced large shift to renewables, that implies an absolute reduction in carbon emissions. You are right to correct me in that for some reason – international face? – the Chinese leadership don´t seem ready yet to say so expressis verbis.

    2. PS: An absolute ceiling on energy consumption – fine if it means short-term cuts in coal burning – is in the long run quite unnecessary, and probably infeasible in China´s rise to an OECD standard of living. You can take and store vast amounts of solar, wind and geothermal energy without any significant impact on climate. This marks a failure of Hu´s imagination. It could be dangerous if it sets up a perceived long-run conflict between the aspirations of China´s masses and the constraints of sustainability.

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