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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Is China Being Given World Leadership?

We seem to be doing just that

Shanxi, China wind farm. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Shanxi, China wind farm. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

By George Harvey

We should start with a little history. In November of 1965, Lyndon Johnson became the first President of the United States to be warned about climate change. The first UN body assembled on the subject and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988, under the leadership of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The Paris Climate Agreement (COP21) was originally signed by 174 countries on April 22, 2016. It was to become international law thirty days after 55% of its signators, representing 55% of world carbon emissions, ratified it. At the COP21 conference, the assumption was that it would take about five years to line up enough countries to sign the agreement into law. That is, however, not how things went.

Donald Trump’s campaign included a lot of rhetoric about making America great again. His talk included promises to create jobs by reviving the coal industry and restoring our industrial output. Claiming that the whole issue of climate change was a hoax created by China’s socialist government, he said he would rescind the Clean Power Plan and back out of COP21. He might even want to lead us out of NATO and the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the road to COP21 ratification became very unusual. Leaders of many nations worried that without support from the US, which might be lost with a Trump election, COP21 might not be ratified at all. Many pushed toward rapid action, and the numbers needed were achieved on October 5, 2016. So the agreement became international law, to which the US had subscribed on November 4. Two countries that stood out as leading on ratification were the US and China.

COP21 was ratified in less than seven months, instead of the five years expected.

We should look at the forces behind getting this agreement to become law and those against it. It is very difficult to see how voluntary reductions of carbon emissions by different counties would strengthen some sort of socialist agenda, as some people have claimed. On the other hand, it is very easy to see how a very small group of people, perhaps the one-ten-thousandth-of-one-percent of us, could finance climate change deniers to dominate our leadership in Washington, D.C.

More to the point, however, is the fact that COP21 is nearly universally supported, except by owners of some companies selling fossil fuels and the politicians whom they have installed into office. Nearly all scientists concerned with climate change agree that humans are causing it. (The quoted figure of 97% of those scientists is several years out of date and has been shown to be much below the correct percentage.)

Much more to the point, nearly all nations are also worried about climate change. The signatories of COP21, now numbering 193, represent as many countries as there are in the United Nations. (A few UN members have not signed; some countries not in the UN have). While China and the US were leaders in signing the agreement, countries that followed include some that are friendly to neither. Those that signed include socialist goverments, anti-socialist governments, democracies, dictatorships, monarchies, and at least one claiming to be a theocracy. They include consumers of fossil fuels and oil-producing nations. Of OPEC members, only Iraq has not acutally signed the accord to limit carbon emissions. The fact that these nations could unite so quickly is closely related to their concerns about climate change.

Now, Donald Trump seems destined for the White House, leadership of the US, and a position to guide our country’s policy. As such, he has reiterated his intention of “canceling” our involvement in COP21. If he does, he is also removing the US presence from an action that is more clearly uniting the nations of the Earth than any before it in human history.

In abandoning our leadership role, we would be creating what is arguably the greatest power vacuum in history. And who is to benefit? It can only be China.

So far, the Chinese seem to be gleeful at the prospect. In the past decades, they have taken manufacturing jobs away from the US. They have out-competed the US in many world markets. They have increasingly challenged the US militarily. Now, they are clearly taking scientific leadership from a country that is officially denying science. They are taking leadership in energy by outspending us two-to-one on renewable power. They installed over half of the worlds wind turbines last year, and they will get their energy nearly for free when we are still (under Trump’s plan) digging it out of the ground, at best, or importing it.

During the COP22 conference at Marrakesh, much talk centered on the US potentially abandoning committments on climate change. While government representatives from nearly all the Earth’s countries were reeling over that prospect, Xie Zhenhua, the top Chinese envoy was quick to take advantage of Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “China will fulfill and honor its commitments to the Paris Agreement,” he announced to a world inclined to be grateful. At almost the same moment, Liu Zhenmin, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, highlighted Donald Trump’s folly almost comically by pointing out that it was Ronald Reagan who started action on what Trump called a Chinese hoax.

Now, we can see China’s increasingly important triumph in developments that have come since. World leaders are already considering what actions they may take if the US abandons COP21. The solution that looks most likely to be implimented is a set of sanctions in the form of carbon taxes, which would be applied to all goods they import from the US. Our goods would be taxed, making it harder for us to compete, and they would keep the money.

Part of the good news is, unfortunately, only good for China. By electing Donald Trump, we are abrogating any credible claim we had of leadership on the one issue behind which the rest of the world is united.

The other part of the good news is that our president-elect is nothing if not inconsistent. He could ditch his support for fossil fuels and keep us in COP21.

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