By Charlie Wilson
Mike Pompeo’s recent condemning the environmental impact of the Chinese economy – “Too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on wilful disregard for air, land and water quality. The Chinese people – and the world – deserve better” – are a spectacular own goal. An example of the sort of bumper sticker diplomacy for which the Trump administration has few competitors, it is breath-taking in its hypocrisy and cynicism, but draws attention to how badly the US itself is failing to deal with climate breakdown and highlights how little “US Global leadership” can pretend to be in the interests of humanity as a whole: let alone a model for anyone’s future, including its own.
The US statement at the last round of negotiations on the Paris Agreement “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability” is not so much an equal opportunities death wish as a declaration of war on the rest of the world – that to sustain its “5 planet lifestyle” for a few more years, the US ruling class will avoid any obligation to make the changes we need for human civilisation to survive – and will freeload off everyone else’s efforts. As no one in the rest of the world now seriously envisages that a future built on frivolous consumption, sprawling car dependent suburbs and mass air transit in place of high-speed rail is viable, the US social model and “way of life” looks increasingly well past its use by date. And that’s not just if you are a Miami real estate agent worried about the impact of rising sea levels on beachfront property, or a resident of California increasingly concerned about being burned out some coming summer.
To take this in parts. The trajectory of the “Chinese Communist Party’s economy” is doing rather better for the people of China than the US model is for its own people. Between 1990 and 2018, life expectancy in China went up significantly faster than in the USA. From 69 to 75 years in China; from 76 to 78 years in the US. Average per capita income also grew dramatically; from $990 per person per year in 1990 to $16 760 a year in 2018, while US per capita income rose from $37, 000 in 1990 to $57, 000 in 2018. A seventeen-fold increase against less than half as much again. At the same time, the US record on the environment is appalling. Especially under Trump.
On July 15, the New York Times[i] reported that the Trump Administration has already rolled back 68 environmental regulations restricting air and water pollution, carbon emissions, release of toxic chemicals into the air and water and onto the land and is working on 32 more, while criminal enforcement by the Environment Protection Agency has hit a 30-year low; with violations that would have been prosecuted in the past now being negotiated with companies.[ii]
This amounts to pretending that Climate Change isn’t happening, sabotaging international efforts to co-operate in fighting it, while letting fossil fuel interests rip as freely as Coronavirus. If every country in the world were to follow this lead we would be heading for guaranteed catastrophe.
Pompeo’s charge that in absolute terms China produces a lot of CO2 and industrial waste is hardly surprising given China has a population of 1400 million people. The size of four continents combined (Europe, North and South America and Australasia). One person in five on the whole planet. The only other country that is remotely comparable is India. China is the world’s largest manufacturing country by a long way with 28.37% of the global total[iii] – and has to bear the pollution caused by making mountains of consumer goods for Western countries that have outsourced their industries. This amounts to between 15 and 30% of its carbon emissions. So, the Chinese people have to breathe the bad air caused by producing consumer goods to maintain the consumption habits of the West.
Proportion of global manufacturing
If you look at carbon emissions per capita, the sheer cheek of Pompeo’s statement becomes clear. In 2018 China emitted 7. 05 tonnes of CO2 per head of population. The US figure was 16. 56 tonnes per head. More than twice as much.[iv]
Carbon emissions per head in 2018
The Chinese Foreign Ministry played the accusations with a straight bat, pointing out that the U.S. is quitting the Paris Agreement on climate change while China is committed to it.[v] By 2018, China had slashed carbon intensity, or the amount of carbon emissions per unit of GDP, by 45.8 percent from 2005 levels. That’s 5.26 billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide emitted since then. That compares with a reduction of just 8% for the USA between 2005 and 2014.[vi]
In 2008, China implemented the “plastic limit order” to reduce “white pollution” and promoted the recycling of waste plastics. By the end of 2019, the treatment rate of urban domestic waste across the country was close to 99 percent.
They could have added that (as the National Geographic 5/5/17 reports) Today, officials “are very serious” about improving air quality, says Tonny Xie, director of the secretariat at the Clean Air Alliance of China. “I’m pretty convinced of that” and cites an example. “With stunning (but typically Chinese) speed, the government has built a nationwide network of monitors tracking levels of PM2.5—the tiny combustion particles that penetrate deep into the body, causing not only breathing problems but also heart attacks, strokes and neurological ailments. More surprisingly, the government has made the data from those monitors publicly available. It has done the same with measurements taken outside thousands of factories. Anyone with a smart phone in China can now check local air quality in real time, see whether a particular facility is breaching emissions limits, and report violators to local enforcement agencies via social media. The level of information compares favourably to what’s available in the U.S. Under the old system, local officials were evaluated almost exclusively on their region’s economic health. Now environmental concerns, particularly air quality, are given greater weight.”
Meanwhile. the U.S., as the country that has made the single largest contribution to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – 25% of the global total compared with China’s 12.7%[vii] , didn’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol, withdrew from the Paris Agreement, seriously hindering the process of global emission reduction and promotion of green and low-carbon development.
Historic global emissions
The US is the world’s largest exporter of solid waste and a major consumer of plastic, hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention, and set up obstacles to the global plastic waste management process, and transferred a large amount of waste to developing countries. The move has brought great harm to the local and global environment.
Further, according to the International Energy Agency, 36 percent and 40 percent of the world’s growth in solar and wind energy in the next five years will come from China, roughly double its proportion of the world’s population. According to the UN, China leads in investing in renewable energy “China …. accounted for 32 per cent of the global total investment, followed by Europe at 21 per cent, the United States at 17 per cent, and Asia-Oceania (excluding China and India) at 15 per cent. Smaller shares were seen in India at 5 per cent, the Middle East and Africa at 5 per cent, the Americas (excluding Brazil and the United States) at 3 per cent and Brazil at 1 per cent”. The National Energy Development Strategy Action Plan set targets for wind and solar power to double between 2015 and 2020 and to reduce coal’s share of total energy consumption to 55 percent by the end of 2020: down from 64 percent in 2015 and 80% in 2010. The $360 billion going into the sector up to 2020 will create 13 million jobs (16 times as many as in the US).
China is now the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles and has a clear lead in the underlying technology; with well over 150,000 renewable energy patents as of 2016, 29% of the global total. The next closest country is the U.S. which had a little over 100,000 patents, with Japan and the E.U. having closer to 75,000 patents each.
The world can draw its own conclusions about which country is leading and which sabotaging our chances of holding off climate breakdown. Pompeo should take off his enormous clown shoes before complaining that anyone else has big feet.
[iii] https://howmuch.net/articles/map-worlds-manufacturing-output This is a rather pro Trump site, but the figures are clear