The Asian Voice

Lots of hypocrisy at play over carbon emissions

America should not forget the contribution of its trade policies to pollution in countries like China and India.

A man walking over a pile of burning garbage on the roadside in New Delhi.
A man walking over a pile of burning garbage on the roadside in New Delhi. PHOTO: AFP

By Chen Weihua
China Daily/ ANN 

Just a few hours after US President Barack Obama announced his ambitious new plan on Monday to limit carbon emissions from power plants to combat global warming, the Busboys & Poets restaurant-cum-bookstore in Washington drew a larger crowd than the White House East Room. 

There, Naomi Klein, a Canadian journalist and social activist, praised Obama's action, but she said it was one step in the right direction along with five in the wrong.

The Arctic drilling endorsed by Obama was one in the wrong direction, and this alone would disqualify Obama to be a climate leader, Klein said.

Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, stood up in the audience to describe the 13 campaigners bravely hanging from the St Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon, on July 29 to block the icebreaker Fennica, leased by oil giant Shell for its Arctic drilling.

Klein was talking about her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate at the bookstore. 

In the book, she condemns the neo-liberalism approach to fighting climate change. For example, she argues that it's not that the Western companies moving their production to China wanted to drive up emissions: they were after cheap labor, and exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turns out, a package deal.

Klein has reminded Westerners who blame China and India for their growing emissions saying, "as if it was not our governments and our multinationals that pushed a model of export-led development that made all of this possible".

"It is said as if it were not our own corporations who, with single-minded determination, turned the Pearl River Delta (region) into their carbon-spewing special economic zone, with the goods going straight onto container ships headed to our superstores," she writes.

Such a relocation of carbon emissions, or pollution, was not in Obama's speech on Monday in which he boasted "the only reason that China is now looking at getting serious about its emissions is because they saw we are going to do it too".

The reason that China is getting serious about combating climate change has nothing to do with Obama but with the worsening air pollution that has become the top concern for many of the Chinese.

It is true that China has been taking measures to curb pollution and fight climate change, but they are often dwarfed by the steps taken in the wrong direction. 

For example, the strategy to stimulate consumption in a bid to boost economic growth often means unnecessary spending that contributes to emissions.

Countries like China and India, with their huge populations, do not have the luxury of repeating the mistakes of Western nations. Per capita emissions in the US is now several times higher than China's, even if we do not subtract the emissions in China to produce goods bound for the US.

China, India and other developing countries still have to lift millions of people out of poverty, including giving many of them access to electricity. 

But the best way to do so is to embark on a low-carbon and sustainable path of development.