Later this year, a global summit meeting will be convened in Copenhagen in which world leaders will try to craft a successor agreement to the Kyoto treaty, the last worldwide effort to establish a meaningful target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The scientific experts on climate change have warned that any agreement in Copenhagen must go much further than the Kyoto accord if the world is going to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming. Basically, we have been told, this is our last chance to prevent climate change from becoming irreversible.
In the run-up to Copenhagen, President Obama has changed the position of the United States — which was one of only a handful of nations which refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty — from foot-dragging to frontrunning. He persuaded his colleagues at the recent G8 summit of leading industrial nations in Italy to endorse a 50-percent reduction in current carbon emissions by 2050.
However, the two growth leaders of the developing world—China and India—thus far have refused to join the party, claiming that their growth will be stymied if they accept the same carbon-reduction standard as the fully industrialized powers.
China, in particular, has in recent years tied its emergence as a global economic power to fossil fuels. The world’s most populous nation has fueled its astounding 10-percent annual growth rates by firing up a new coal-burning power plant every two weeks. By the end of this year, China is expected to surpass the United States as the country that spews the largest volume of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
So it might be logical to conclude that the U.S., which is now embracing a green agenda, and China, which has an expanding appetite for the world’s dirtiest fuel, are moving in opposite directions.
According to a report in The New York Times, China aggressively is positioning itself to become the world’s most dominant producer of renewable energy. Its strategy involves building up an alternative energy manufacturing base by shutting out foreign competition for huge domestic projects while at the same time using this expanded manufacturing sector to flood overseas markets with exports.
The Chinese are rapidly applying several variations of this strategy to solar and wind power, and they are laying the groundwork to become a world power in electric cars as well.
The Asian giant is building not one, but six of the world’s largest wind farms on its territory, each with a capacity of between 10,000 to 20,000 megawatts. By comparison, the largest wind power project in the U.S.— a 4,000-megawatt wind farm in Texas proposed by oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens—still sits on the drawing board. Pickens recently announced he is putting the project on hold, primarily because he does not expect transmission lines needed to support it to be built during the current economic downturn.
According to the Times, the bidding process for the huge Chinese wind power projects was skewed by the Chinese government to award manufacturing contracts to domestic companies. The 25 largest contracts for the PRC’s wind initiative all were awarded to Chinese firms earlier this year. As soon as these domestic projects are completed, analysts expect China to unleash a wave of wind-power component exports.
To corner the solar power market, the Chinese used this formula in reverse. They created the world’s largest solar panel manufacturing industry by exporting 95 percent of their output to Europe and the U.S. But when China authorized its first solar power plant this spring, it required that 80 percent of the panels be made in China.
While we’re not privy to the diplomatic dialogue between the great powers that is going on behind the scenes, we suspect the U.S. and Europe are doing most of the talking in the current conversation with China on the subject of global warming.
The Western powers are urging China to adopt their timetable for carbon-emission reductions, and they undoubtedly are threatening to file a complaint with the WTO over China’s protectionist stance regarding its emerging alternative energy industry.
We suspect the Chinese aren’t saying anything. They are waiting for it to occur to U.S. and European leaders that China already has established its global warming ”negotiating position” through its actions.
From where we sit, it seems that China’s position is as clear as a pollution-free sky:
”There can be no solution to global warming without us, and we intend to dominate the market for green technologies and alternative energy. If you want one, you have to accept the other.”
The Chinese are waiting, and they are smiling. Eventually the Americans and the Europeans will understand they are caught between a bituminous rock and a hard place.
And if we in the West don’t have this epiphany soon, well, our friends in Beijing know they can speed things up by suggesting they may want to convert the $2-trillion worth of U.S. dollars they are holding into another currency.