By William R. Hawkins
President Barack Obama resorted to the same tactic at the United Nations last week that he has been using at home in the health care debate. He has escalated the rhetoric as political support has collapsed. At the UN Climate summit Sept. 22, President Obama opened his address by asserting, "we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe" if the "threat" of climate change is not reversed by a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from industry, transportation and energy generation.
The picture he painted of global floods and famines is highly contentious. The climate change debate is far from over, as much as the liberal-left in America, Europe and throughout the UN bureaucracy would like it to be. The high costs to be imposed on households and businesses to meet even the modest 17 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 set in the "cap and trade" bill passed by the U.S. House in June has sparked wide popular opposition. The House bill is stalled in the Senate. The Obama administration can, however, be expected to push hard for passage before the Copenhagen UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in December that is to draw up a new international climate treaty.
But it is not the debate in the Western countries that will be decisive . It is the rejection of the global warming cult in the rest of the world that has doomed the luddites and saved humanity from a future of hopeless poverty. As the G20 replaces the G8 as the forum for international economic cooperation, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries who oppose mandatory emission controls that would curtail economic growth gain power.
Chinese president Hu Jintao told the UN Climate summit Sept. 22:
"Climate change is an environment issue, but also, and more importantly, a development issue...We should and can only advance efforts to address climate change in the course of development and meet the challenge through common development."
This statement was downplayed in the Western press, but led stories in China. Placing economic growth ahead of saving the planet makes perfect sense if one does not believe the planet is in danger. President Hu did say that China would be looking at ways to improve efficiency, using more renewable and nuclear energy. Beijing will also reduce emissions per unit of output. But since Chinese output is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace, total emissions will continue as to expand, as Chinese diplomats told the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn last June. As Hu said, "For developing countries, the top priority now is to grow the economy, eradicate poverty and improve livelihood."
Yet, Climate cult leader Al Gore praised China's efforts after Hu's speech, noting that Beijing has planted more trees in the last two years than the rest of the world combined. But China has also expanded manufacturing faster than anyone else. Planting trees is much easier and less disruptive than the "cap and trade" policy Gore and Obama favor in the United States; a measure that would slow the economy, increase poverty and lower living standards.
China's official news agency Xinhua called President Hu's remarks "sincere and inspiring" but they were not new. It must be understood that while Beijing wants to reduce urban pollution as a health hazard, improve efficiency for economic reasons, and reduce oil imports for security reasons, it does not believe in the global warming theory. Beijing will not sacrifice its national agenda to foreign mandates. It will, however, exploit climate change paranoia in the West to gain advantages for China.
Beijing's position, stated with great consistency in every forum, is that the United States and the other developed countries in Europe and Japan, should "lead" in fighting climate change by imposing crippling regulations on their economies while letting the developing world remain free to pursue its own growth objectives.
India supports the Chinese position. At the UN summit, New Delhi's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told the media that India is a "deal-maker" in the UNFCCC process. But what is the nature of the deal? "Developed countries must make substantial emissions cuts for 2020" he said, because the problem has been caused by them. In his view, the United States needs a "lifestyle change" to combat climate change. Rather than be subjected to mandatory limits under a new treaty, India's national plan will use "voluntary mitigation measures" by 2020, he said.
South Africa favors emission targets against a fixed base year for the developed world, but not for developing countries. It holds to the position taken at the Johannesburg summit in March that it will pursue environmental programs on its own, rather than accept an agenda that is forced upon it through a Copenhagen agreement. Brazil also opposes mandatory limits on economic activity. All it has offered is to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by half over the next ten years, while criticizing the United States for not doing enough to cut its emissions.
The developing countries see a golden opportunity to transfer more wealth and productive capacity from the West as it becomes more and more difficult to do any productive activity in countries dominated by Green regulations and high taxes. Beijing is pushing a more "open" policy for foreign investment in China, particularly for high-tech industry, though with the same pressures to take on Chinese partners.
There are also demands for the West to provide Green technology and money to the developing countries if they want to reduce pollution. At UNFCCC negotiations in August, developing countries requested $400 billion a year. The UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs report "Promoting Development, Saving the Planet" (released Sept. 1) claimed more than $500 billion a year is needed. The African Union has threatened to walk out of the Copenhagen conference if it does not get $65 billion a year. If someone else will pay for it, the developing states will act, but they will not divert resources from domestic growth to pursue some quixotic crusade to "save the planet." And neither should the United States.