What About China?

Climate-change deniers often parrot the nihilistic fallacy that it's a waste of time acting against climate change in the UK because our greenhouse gas emissions are dwarfed by those of China.

Cliff-Edge Analogy

Most countries in the world are currently accelerating their metaphorical cars towards the very real cliff-edge of climate catastrophe. In the UK we've reduced our emissions fractionally but we're still heading fast towards the cliff. Instead of slamming on the brakes, as is desperately required, we're looking over our shoulder trying to blame other drivers.

Far behind us is a much larger car, driven by Xi Jinping! There's a chance that car will ram us all over the edge. If we brake hard, that will slow the other car down a little. If we persuade some of our global-north friends to do the same, we might buy ourselves enough time to persuade Xi Jinping to stop before it's too late. There are signs that he might be open to that. See below.

Shooting-Our-Children Analogy

Emitting greenhouse gases is like shooting bullets at our own children. Many of the world's children are already being killed by climate-destroying actions now. The more metaphorical bullets the world fires, the greater mortal danger we expose our children to.

Once you realise that British, Chinese, etc government policies are effectively aiming bullets at your child/grandchild/nephew/niece, what should you do? a) stand idly by and allow the firing squads to accelerate, or b) step up and at least try to stop our own government committing crimes against our children.

PS we're funding a lot of the Chinese bullets.

We Caused This Mess!

A first response is that, as shown on Who Burnt All The Carbon?, China's CO₂ emissions per person over history are dwarfed by the UK's and other rich nations. So the moral imperative is on us to act first to reverse the damage we've caused.

Even the data for recent years (see Who's Burning All The Carbon?) shows that, while the CO₂ emissions per head in China are now higher than in the UK, US emissions per head are twice those of China.

Who's Got the Most Renewables?

Go to https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/annual-change-renewables?tab=table and click on the second year column (eg 2019) to sort. It shows that over 40% of the world's renewable energy is generated in China, twice as much as Europe and the US combined!

Unfortunately, as the first chart (click on "Table") on https://ourworldindata.org/renewable-energy shows, in 2019 this amounted to only 12.66% of China's primary energy use. and https://www.iea.org/countries/china shows that in 2019 around 60% of China's energy supply came from coal.

On the other hand, if you go to https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/annual-change-renewables?tab=table&time=2015..latest and sort by "Absolute Change", you'll see that over the last 5 years (of data) over one third of the increase in renewable energy generated worldwide came from China. Note also that over the same 5-year period the total amount of renewable energy generated by China has doubled. The Chinese Communist Party are clearly keen to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel imports and, if they continue at this rate, they'll soon be closing or cancelling some of their planned coal-fired power stations.

Why Do They Need to Burn all that Coal?

https://wits.worldbank.org/CountryProfile/en/country/CHN/startyear/2015/endyear/2019/indicator/NE-EXP-GNFS-ZS reports that between 2015 and 2019 the value of China's exports was about 20% GDP. We can estimate from this that China uses 20% of its energy manufacturing products for export.

Answer: Approximately one third of the coal burnt in China is used to make products for export.

China also burns oil and natural gas. I've picked on coal, as that's the dirtiest form of power and I guess they would ditch that first if their energy needs were lower.

Let's not Buy Stuff from China?

It would be nice to imagine that everyone could make a personal decision not to buy goods produced in such a climate-damaging way. But suppose we bought UK-made products instead? Well, looking again at the the first table on https://ourworldindata.org/renewable-energy, we see that in 2019 only 14.45% of the UK's primary energy came from renewables, barely more than China's 12.66%. If we switch to locally manufactured items, the UK is going to need more generating capacity, and that will likely mean bringing back into service mothballed fossil-fuel plants.

Action required: Buy less new stuff - and China will need to burn less coal.

To Be Fair

As far as I can see, the only fair way, to reduce the climate impact from the stuff that is manufactured for us, is to enforce climate-impact auditing and labelling for all manufactured products, across the full international supply chain. This is a monstrously large task and businesses will wail that it will push up costs. That's true but without it there is no way to choose the products with the lowest climate impact.

Once we know the climate damage caused by each product, then governments will be in a position to charge a "carbon/climate tax" so that buying the least damage-causing items will become cheaper and manufacturers who invest and innovate to find ways to reduce fossil-fuel inputs will be rewarded.

As the "carbon/climate tax" is ramped up to truly reflect the damage caused by the production process, it will become more and more worthwhile to repair, reuse and recycle old items, which should in turn reduce global energy demand.

Ecosystem Function Conservation Areas

The Chinese Communist Party has set an ambitious target, designating 49% of China's land area as Ecosystem Function Conservation Areas (EFCAs). See Ecosystem Planning in China (https://naturalcapitalproject.stanford.edu/projects/ecosystem-planning-china).

Under this scheme, people within EFCAs are paid to restore ecosystems (eg to prevent downstream flooding) with the money coming from the beneficiaries in other areas.

The Loess Plateau

The Loess Plateau in northern China is an area about the size of Afghanistan, home to 50m people. The project over 40 years to restore it from desert (degraded by centuries of over-farming) to greenness could be the world's largest carbon sequestration project. See Green Gold - Documentary by John D. Liu (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBLZmwlPa8A).

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