How to stop them breaking CO2 promises – part 2

26 03 2007

Wikimedia - Stefan WernliA commonly raised objection to action on global warming (in the West) is that there seems no point if China continues building a new coal-fired power plant every week.  India is said to be not far behind. Their emissions are growing at an astonishing rate.

These new emerging economic giants would seem to make any action by the rest of us rather futile.  How on earth do we convince these guys to turn the ship around and start behaving themselves (assuming Aus and US join the rest of the developed world vis-a-vis emission caps).  Unfortunately it’s a little like a prisoner’s dillemma, with countries fighting to achieve economic advantage even if it means bringing the whole system crashing down.  But there is room for hope.

The way I see it there is the carrot or the stick approach.

The carrot approach would be to gently engage these countries, to share technologies, to provide funds and incentives.  Perhaps this will be enough.  The pessimist in me suspects it may not necessarily be that easy.

Fortunately we have the stick approach.  The stick approach would entail trade barriers to those countries not towing the line.  After all China and India are pursuing export-oriented growth and ultimately rely very heavily on us Westerners buying their stuff, or in the case of India, buying their services (for the most part).  We stop buying, they take a hit – a big one.

But trade barriers are an idea that we don’t mention in polite company anymore.  Free trade ideologues insist that all speed bumps to trade are bad and interfere with the efficient allocation of capital and the growth imperative of modern day market economies.  Even if this is in fact the case, there are some good reasons why unfettered free trade might do some harm, and so the debate over free trade is hotly contested by many of a green bent and certainly by critics of economic globalisation.

Nevertheless, if its enough to make the Chinese sit up and pay attention (which they already show signs of doing), we might just have to bring in such measures.  There are murmurings already.  The WTO (grrr…spit ! curse !) would likely be the referee.  It’s charter is largely about promoting trade liberalisation but the idea of subsidies is one that is useful here and one that the WTO presently considers in trade disputes.  We might consider that a country that releases masses of greenhouse gases is subsidising the cost of production of it’s goods through systematic environmental degradation.

So it will be that the recalcitrant few will be brought into the fold.

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10 responses

27 03 2007
Eugenie

Are sanctions really a solution to this problem and do they ever work?

I’ve always been ambivalent about the effectiveness of sanctions. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the first people to suffer in a nation in which sanctions have been imposed are most likely to be the the poor, the weak, the powerless.

Let’s say all Western countries stop importing goods from China. Chinese companies will take a serious hit. But who will lose their jobs first? The young women who work 18 hours a day and get paid 10 cents for those 18 hours – NOT the rich well-fed factory owner.

I agree that some thing needs to be done to bring “the recalcitrant few” into the fold (recalcitrant – I like that word). I don’t know what the solution is, though.

Peace,
Eugenie

PS. Thanks for your wee geography lesson. Sounds like a fascinating place (although you can keep your sharks and crocs).

28 03 2007
Dave Riley

Doesn’t changing climate change start at home? Why focus on these countries by punishing their populations –as that would be the result, wouldn’t it — as was the case with Iraq under UN sanctions.

29 03 2007
Trinifar

I think you have a great point here, Verdurous, pointing to the mutual dependency between economic powerhouses. The problem is how can, say, the USA use its leverage without hurting itself economically. It’s sort of a game of chicken. Who changes direction first?

Currently the USA’s debt-based economy is dependent on China’s continued economic growth, and we seem willing to contunue to send more and more carbon into the atmosphere without a care.

30 03 2007
Verdurous

Eugenie, I’m not sure whether sanctions is the right word. Right now, the WTO considers “unfair” factors when determining if one nation is “cheating the system” by subsidising it’s products thus making the so called playing field not level. For example if Australia pays its sugar farmers some sort of monetary bonus to prop up the industry then the USA might ask the WTO to rule against Australia and allow quotas or tarrifs against Australian sugar to even things up. This sort of thing goes on all the time. Similarly, if a nation “subsidises” its products by avoiding the cost of carbon mitigation then that might also be unfair, as another nation – let’s say Japan – might spend the money and therefore be fighting with one arm behind its back.

Dave and Eugenie, I think you are right that Western Nations are morally obliged to take the lead on these issues. They should sacrifice more to reach global targets. Unfortunately though, we are at a point where we can no longer wait for other large nations to join the effort. On current trends, China will soon take over from the USA as the world’s largest greenhouse emitter. There simply isn’t the time to wait for China to get rich and then cut back. At any rate, there isn’t the ecological capacity. Imagine adding the number of consumers in the USA and the EU nations. Now multiply that figure by four and that is pretty close to the population of India and China combined.

In terms of standard of living, we in the West may need to drop our level while allowing the “developing” nations to raise theirs. We’ll have to meet in the middle. Though I believe that standard of living and quality of life are only loosely related. Eugenie I guess my view is that if an economic system can only provide full employment if there is infinitely expanding exponential economic growth then it is a flawed system and needs reworking. Besides, I’m not sure it’s a sensible set-up to have one or two countries producing all of the world’s “stuff” – in terms of security, cultural diversity, transportation costs to the environement etc. etc.

Dave, you’ll note that I don’t just focus on these countries and part of this two part blog entry was focussed on the need to set annual reduction targets in countries like the UK and Australia. I guess part 2 (this part) was directed to those people who say “Well, there’s no point even trying because China an India have no obligations under Kyoto and they’ll never agree to any restraint”. My post simply makes the point that they may be persuaded by gentle means or by economic pressure – without resorting to warfare and without giving up on their co-operation.

Trinifar, I think that’s a great point about the mutual dependencies between the US and Chinese economies. I believe its probably the primary reason why Washington kow-tows to China. Iraq was accused of having weapons of mass destruction, a non-democratic government and invading other countries without warning. China also fits this description. Come to think of it the USA fits 2 (maybe 3) of these criteria. So why would the USA be soft on China. Well, they are big players both economically and militarily. Perhaps gentle tariffs might just encourage a beligerent nation to change course before it takes a big hit economically. Maybe this is optimistic. But first, of course, the USA and Australia must show the way and they have acted disgracefully to date. At any rate as Stern has pointed out, the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action – although I still find it sad that some people only respond to economic arguments such as these. What’s a polar bear worth?

I’ll end with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

“God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the west… keeping the world in chains. If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

30 03 2007
Trinifar

Ben,

Though I believe that standard of living and quality of life are only loosely related.

If only we could convince more people that the amount of material things they use is not correlated to quality of life.

30 03 2007
Eugenie

Hi Ben: – My mistake, I read “trade barriers” as “trade sanctions” for some reason.

You’re right that “trade barriers” is not an expression people like to hear these days. Last year I wrote an article for the newspaper in my home town about the stalling of the Doha round of the WTO talks and how this would affect New Zealand. I could not find one person to criticise the WTO or the advancement of trade liberalisation. Even the so-called left-wing economists at the university couldn’t bring themselves to do it. I was surprised and very disappointed.

“If only we could convince more people that the amount of material things they use is not correlated to quality of life.” Oh, don’t get me started on this! Trinifar, I completely agree.

3 04 2007
Magne Karlsen

Verdurous: “Unfortunately it’s a little like a prisoner’s dillemma, with countries fighting to achieve economic advantage even if it means bringing the whole system crashing down.”

– —

Nicely put. 😀

As it turns out: the western world is setting the standard, especially in terms of lifestyle choices. As the peoples / nations of the western world continue to allow themselves to pursue strictly unsustainable lifestyles, it is only natural that the rest of the world’s peoples and nations to do the same. That’s what we all know as “fair enough” – so that’s gotta be both nice and okay. Right?

Hmmm. I just wrote a little piece on “Growth Is Madness”, on the tendency of all peoples and nations of this world to pursue the classic form of American Lifestyle. In the name of “Progress”, and nothing less.

It’s a vicious circle. Humanity can only make it out of this vicious circle, if – and provided that – westerners in general should decide to make do with less than we do right now. Only then can we start hoping for development in the direction of a more sustainable future.

Methinks. 🙂

3 04 2007
Verdurous

Eugenie,

re: “I could not find one person to criticise the WTO or the advancement of trade liberalisation. Even the so-called left-wing economists…..”

That’s really interesting. There remains a strong academic line of argument against unfettered free trade although I suspect it won’t be found in conventional economics.

From my brief reading, New Zealand appears to be a fascinating case study in economic liberalisation and deregulation followed by a partial retreat from its worst excesses.

3 04 2007
Verdurous

Magne,

re: “….on the tendency of all peoples and nations of this world to pursue the classic form of American Lifestyle. In the name of “Progress”, and nothing less.”

It certainly shows a lack of imagination, or perhaps the power of mass media – or both. Nature and ecosystems promote a flourishing of diversity. Global corporate economics appears to favour monoculture and an absurd notion of optimality. Works for a while, but terrible strategy in the long run. It takes so long to undo a contraction in diversity – be it with respect to species or with respect to cultures and languages. Nature does not come up with an optimal design for a four-legged mammal. Rather it has allowed countless variations all subtly different and responding to local conditions. So it should be with economies and cultures. Here endeth the lesson. (Sorry- I thought I was starting to sound a bit pompous so I ended with the most pompous phrase I could come up with 🙂 )

29 10 2008
fiernatiatt

Sounds crazy. Are you trying to reach my ordinary answer Do you want a joke? 🙂 Where does a one-armed man shop? At a second hand store.

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