Low carbon emissions and Chinese Industry. These are two terms that do not fit well together. When we think of China, we envision smoke stacks billowing grey filth endlessly into the atmosphere, and filthy coal fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, this is not far from the truth. China alone burns 40% of the world’s coal, and releases 28% of the world’s carbon annually. It is suffering from an “airpocalypse” or even a “smogpocalypse,” if you ask the media. Children are often forced to wear thick masks just to make their short journey to school, and it prematurely kills, according to the World Bank, anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 people each year. The Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning has stated that the nationwide lung cancer rate has risen by 465 per cent in the last 3 decades. Even when cigarette consumption has been reduced. Hmm. Can it get much worse?
No, not really. All in all, China has some of, if not the worst air in the world. However this “air” is not only affecting China. Numerous studies have shown that over 30 percent of San Francisco’s smog comes from China! Chinese smog has also been known to float over Japanese and Korean cities like a dark cloud from hell and plunge them into smog filled darkness.
We all know about the depletion of the ozone and the exponential increase of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. This Chinese smog is not helping to say the least, and it is not showing any signs of slowing down, with a new filthy coal power plant being produced every two weeks. However, despite these unsettling statistics, if there is one nation that can make the future of our atmosphere a little brighter and a whole lot cleaner, it has to be China.
“China?” you ask. “But I thought they had the worst pollution!”
That is true, but China has very recently grown into the most pivotal and important nation in the world. It has been literally buying up countries with its booming economy, and it contains over one seventh of the world’s population. But, most importantly, China has the capacity and money to make radical changes very, very quickly. The recent global trend has been: if China does it, then the rest of the world should probably follow suite or risk getting left behind. This is especially true for the USA, who is China’s largest trade partner. This combination of China working with the USA makes for a very dynamic duo that can really change the world, for the presence of these two nations can literally be found everywhere on the face of the earth.
These two cold war enemies have benefited from a recent warming of relations regarding climate change deals. The USA has been known, like China, to shy away from committing to emission regulation deals, or boycott them all together. This has not been the case recently, for last year in November Obama and Chinese party chairman Xi Jinping shook on a landmark new deal regarding the carbon footprint of the two partner nations. China pledged to reach its maximum carbon output by 2030, while both nations pledged to utilize more green sources of energy!
China even agreed to raise its dependency on green sources from 9.8 percent to 20 percent over the course of one year. “For the world’s biggest emitters to be coming together and announcing concrete numbers, serious numbers, sends a signal to the world,” said David B. Sandalow, who was Mr. Obama’s assistant secretary of energy for policy and international affairs. This is welcoming news indeed. For in 1997, the United Nations Kyoto protocol, which aimed to drastically reduce emissions on the premises that global warming exists, and man- made CO2 emissions have caused it, failed to produce viable results. This ambitious and revolutionary protocol failed due to a standoff between the USA and China, who never fully ratified the deal, in turn rendering the treaty useless.
These new agreements mark a change in global policy on climate change deals. The republican party in the USA has always been able to argue their way out of making climate change deals by simply stating that if China is not on board, then reductions made by the USA will be too small to make a difference. No longer is this the case.
This deal has positive outcomes not only in China and the USA. However, with China and USA stepping up their fight, developing nations like India, which releases 7% of the worlds carbon, other large emitters like the EU may step up their efforts to curb their emissions as well. The major sticking point for these nations in taking action against their footprint, is that the largest polluters have not taken the first step to reduce their own emissions. Once again, they too are left without an excuse not to take action against their emissions, for a first step has been taken.
This agreement comes at the perfect time to act as a strong foundation for the talks at the 2015 UN Paris climate summit, where all nations can be included. The international climate change community is counting on China to make more bold moves to sway the policies of other nations to take radical action as well. If China follows its present course, we may see many more deals that have the capacity to curb global emissions in the near future. The future of our atmosphere now rests in the hands of China. Only in the future will we know if China is sincere, or simply full of hot air.