Calling bulls**t on China’s global warming rhetoric

Brian Bahnisch over at Larvatus Prodeo has a useful summary of the state of play (such as it is) at the current Durban climate change talkfest:

China, it seems, wants the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol for the developed countries, and wants them legally bound to deeper cuts in the order of 45% by 2020. Then it has indicated it will come to the party.

Their attitude is based on the ‘legacy concept’ – those who caused the problem should fix it, while the developing countries should continue to place the highest priority on development for the next decade.

India appears to be essentially with China, although they claim to be flexible.

The US will not sign up to anything unless the major emitters sign and won’t start to talk before 2015. The 5 biggest emitters are, in order, China, the US, India, Russia and Japan.

Most of the developing countries want an extension of Kyoto, and desperately want legally binding cuts. They want the major developed countries legally bound, with penalties, and don’t trust anything else.

The EU is willing to continue with a Kyoto phase 2 if everyone signs up to talks leading to an agreement by 2015, to be implemented from 2020. They are supported by a handful of Kyoto Annexe 1 countries like Norway and Sweden and at least 90 developing countries, making about 120 in all. Unfortunately all countries must agree, not just a majority.

I want to focus on the sentence in bold above. I suspect most environmentalists and left-leaning readers would intuitively accept the logic/morality of the Chinese argument.  But they would be wrong, as Nicholas Gruen has argued before here at Troppo.  While it’s certainly true that affluent western countries were not subject to restrictions on their carbon emissions over the century or more in which they developed and became wealthy, that’s only one side of the equation.  The fact that those wealthy countries did the “hard yards” of development, invention, research and development over two centuries means that China and India now have the benefit of a developed world economy into which they can sell their cheaper products and services, along with perfected technologies and production processes they can simply adopt and exploit rather than having to develop them for themselves.  That’s why they’ve been able to develop almost from a standing start into huge industrial economies in just a little over two decades in contrast to western countries which took a hundred years and more to reach that point of development.

Because they’ve benefited at least equally from the industrial development whose side-effects include more and more atmospheric carbon dioxide, it’s entirely reasonable that China and India should be required to sign up to binding emissions targets.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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patrickg
10 years ago

Geez, Ken, flawed as China’s argument is, I think you’re on a hiding to nothing arguing that the developing world is better-off for the developed world. In the absence of wars, imperialism etc, I’m sure developing countries would have scraped together a few “hard yards” by themselves. Instead, they were caught up in the “easy yards” of genocides, slavery, exploitation environmental and otherwise.

The real reasons why China’s position – whilst understandable – is untenable, are as follows:

1) It has overtaken everyone in the world as a carbon emitter, and at current rates will have caught up to the 20th century developed-world contribution in a matter of years.

2) It doesn’t matter who did what to whom, the _reality_ is, if we don’t _all_ do something, as soon as possible, we are totally screwed.

Paul Montgomery
10 years ago

An interesting take. Seems reasonable.

wmmbb
10 years ago

Following on from partickg and thinking about what may be a solution, which inevitably is to be contentious. Might it not be possible to have a global system of discriminate tariffs, or failing that packaging information advising that the consumer that the goods have been proportionally produced by non-GHG energy sources? Why keep driving, even accelerating, when the edge of the cliff is visible?

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
10 years ago

Patrickg, what sign was there that the developing world was scraping together ‘hard yards’ before the industrial revolution?

More seriously though, one of the problems is that the impression is created, at least in the media coverage of these things that ‘binding targets’ for the West and for the developing countries should be downwards. But they should be strongly downwards for the West to enable some upward trajectory in the Developing world.

Even given that I doubt targets will work. Some agreement on uniform carbon pricing ought to be more tractable. But, though I’ve not caught up with the latest developments, when I last looked we were a long way from that. This comes partly from the place on the ideological and disciplinary spectrum this whole agenda has come from – which is left, development politics (which is even more dysfunctional than trade politics) and driven by lawyers and diplomats, not economists. (This is not to say that economists don’t arrive at the table with their own litany of dysfunction to declare – real business cycles anyone? – but at least they’re barking up the right trees.)

Things will keep getting worse – a lot worse – before they get better folks.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Again it’s more game theory/prisoner’s dilemma stuff. The problem with the why-us why-now argument is that ultimately the chance to make cuts that are at all meaningful will simply slip out of our grasp (and I for one have few illusions about the extent to which that has already happened).

Everybody should be falling over themselves to cut emissions. After all, GDP growth is a very incomplete indicator of wellbeing (cf. Nicholas G., Robert Kennedy, the OECD in 1970, among many others) The West should be calling it like it is – we are drowning in manufactures; we don’t want any more (regardless of what the marketers tell us); if the next technology-driven economic breakthrough could be about clean energy we in the West would pay handsomely, etc. etc.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

In the absence of wars, imperialism etc, I’m sure developing countries would have scraped together a few “hard yards” by themselves.

You live in a fantasy world.

Most of the developing world had no contact at all with western civilisation until the industrial revolution had already begun, and they were mostly living in caves and/or straw huts still.

If it wasn’t for western colonisation they still would be.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

The economic and cultural ascendency of the West is actually pretty recent, Yobbo. I think you know that but are just trolling.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

It’s really not Dan. Unless you think 2500 years is “recent”.

rog
rog
10 years ago

Most of the developing world had no contact at all with western civilisation until the industrial revolution had already begun, and they were mostly living in caves and/or straw huts still.

I know I have said some silly things in my time but Yobbo has outdistanced me by the proverbial country mile, at least.

rog
rog
10 years ago

Chinas argument re developing countries is flawed – the world is the same for everybody and there is no way that the reality of climate change can be altered by historical revisionism.

Their argument is made more credible by their resources, they can throw any number of people to argue their case 24/7. So when it comes to paying the bill they have won the right to make us pay and they can also continue to blame the west for any future climate triggered events.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

I must agree with Rog on that one. Yobbo, try and do a Google search on, for example “Marco Polo” (no it isn’t just Cathay’s frequent flyer program) or the “British East India Company”. I guess that should account for a fair chunk of the world. If that’s not enough, try “James Cook” or “Christopher Colombus”.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

PatrickG: “1) It has overtaken everyone in the world as a carbon emitter, and at current rates will have caught up to the 20th century developed-world contribution in a matter of years. ”

I don’t think most people in China think this — not suprisingly, it’s per head that matters (or perhaps per head in the US), and so as long as the US emits oodles more per person, it’s no surprise the Chinese are not going to care too much excluding for reasons of self interest.

“Because they’ve benefited at least equally from the industrial development whose side-effects include more and more atmospheric carbon dioxide”

As much as I think they have benefitted from the Industrialization of the West, I really can’t see how you arive at “at least equally” (esepcially for India!). Most Western countries are rich, India and China are not. What’s equal about that?

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

I must agree with Rog on that one. Yobbo, try and do a Google search on, for example “Marco Polo” (no it isn’t just Cathay’s frequent flyer program) or the “British East India Company”. I guess that should account for a fair chunk of the world. If that’s not enough, try “James Cook” or “Christopher Colombus”.

I’m not sure what you are getting at Conrad. Are you saying that pre-Columbus, Western Europe was lagging behind?

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Sorry Yobbo, that was a bit silly of me, but you did say:”Most of the developing world had no contact at all with western civilisation until the industrial revolution had already begun.”. You can choose your date for when the industrial revolution began, but it wasn’t until well after most places had met, had trade links etc. .

I’m not sure what times you mean by pre-Colombus (we’re talking about before the industrial revolution began), so you need to choose your dates, and I’m not sure what you mean by lagging behind — there were certainly places in the world that were reasonable to live in that wern’t Western Europe at the time of Colombus — notably the Ming Dynstany in terms of the countries we’re talking about here.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

Oh, I see now, rog was quibbling about the date rather than replying to my point.

Yes you got me, I was probably off by 100-200 years in the time where contact between western civilisation and the rest of the world became commonplace.

there were certainly places in the world that were reasonable to live in that wern’t Western Europe at the time of Colombus — notably the Ming Dynstany in terms of the countries we’re talking about here.

You’re right, which is why I said “mostly”. Edo period Japan was also fairly decent from all reports. Most of the rest of the world was about 5000 years behind the pace though.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

But then again, neither China nor Japan are the “developing world” (at least China is not any more according to the IMF), so they don’t really satisfy any of patrick’s fantasies.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Yobbo@15: ‘about 5000 years’ – you know this is total superiority-complex-colonialists-patting-self-on-back stuff right? It’s oriented from an entirely subjective, historically specific perspective of what constitutes a good society – ‘the West got ahead economically, therefore the West must always have been ahead’ – shaky at best, even without evidence pointing in entirely different directions.

If you gave me the option of having been born in England in 1000CE, the Middle East in 1000CE, or Australia in 1000CE, England would come a distant third – backwards and disease-ridden.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

I’m wondering if Yobbo’s position is based on the idea that there are differences in intelligence between ‘races’.

Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in “IQ and the Wealth of Nations” attempt to make a serious, scholarly case for the thesis that the great variation presently observed in the per capita wealth of the nations of the world can be explained largely as the effect of the differences in inherited mental capacity existing between prosperous and impoverished countries.”

I was surprised to read a rebuttal of this thesis by Gene Callahan, an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

http://mises.org/daily/2677

He writes about Africans and other people who are not currently economically successful that; “their lives may have required cognitive skills quite distinct from those most useful to Europeans or East Asians, but those skills are still exhibitions of intelligence, albeit intelligence directed towards dealing with the unique environmental challenges they faced. If that is the case, then it is no surprise that they perform poorly on an IQ test devised with a different set of mental capabilities in mind.”

Of course being one of those stuck in the ideological mysticism of free market capitalism, he simplistically suggests that “a more plausible hypothesis is that the most crucial aspect of recent East Asian economic history is that most of the region more or less embraced free markets, while many Africa and Latin America countries were seduced by the alluring but empty promises of socialist propagandists, and succumbed to the temptation of the apparently easy path to prosperity offered by foreign aid.”

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Jared Diamond makes a similar point in Guns, Germs and Steel – that us blue-eyed devils would be completely screwed if we had to face the sorts of challenges and exhibit the sort of skills that, say, members of hunter-gatherer societies do as a matter of course every day.

The cultural specificity of intelligence testing was certainly impressed upon us when I was a psych undergraduate in the early noughties.

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion(@rafe-champion)
10 years ago

Lighten up fellas! Paul Frijters has poointed out that we can adapt to a regime of modest climate change (the most likely scenario) which involved benefits as well as costs.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
10 years ago

Dan I started my undergraduate degree in 1991 and stayed on doing hons and then a PhD and even more research for a few years; lol they kept offering me grants and interesting work but when my Professor/PhD supervisor decided he needed to get back to a sandstone university, I wasn’t prepared to, or able to, follow him so here I am pretty much unemployable. He had come to my regional uni to take up the foundation chair.

I still keep in touch with research psychs and a couple of those helping psychs in private practice and you are right IQ testing is only regarded as usefull for diagnosis, as in finding differences between the sub-scores that explicate problems someone is having in their life or it is done for legal reasons and totally not relevant to any understanding why different tribes of people value different things.

With reference to the idea, still widely held I think, that our Aborigines are stupid, the fact is that Bennelong was able to learn English and in England he socialised quite successfully with the aristocracy there. That doesn’t sound possible for someone with an IQ of 59, which is the score that Jenson and his kind still use as the truth about their intelligence.

59 is the level of a Down Syndrome person FFS.

Ros
Ros
10 years ago

Are you being dismissed with a subtle version of Godwin’s Law Yobbo. Would the proposition that “science” was a product of western civilisation that China now embraces, to its benefit, also cause angst?

While unfamiliar with the term “legacy concept” “The fact that those wealthy countries did the “hard yards” of development, invention, research and development over two centuries means that China and India now have the benefit of a developed world economy” it is not a strange idea in suburbia. Yobbos do make mention of it. Along with gritted teeth everytime Combet tells us that China (even?) is doing the right thing. Like how stupid does he think we are? Many get that China is doing the right thing by China not the climate. That they are about efficiency and productivity and wealth creation in China, not saving the planet. And good luck to them. But it does mean that the message that WE must radically change our way of life or risk destruction loses a lot of its efficacy.

I read that one of the suggestions that was swirling around Durban is that the consensus approach should be replaced with a majority of nations and other interested parties approach. Combet seems to be avoiding signing up to this and appears to be of the view that China etc must sign up to legally binding targets or we won’t, but who knows what is said behind closed doors, in particular Bob Brown’s door. And it seems to me anyway that agreeing to an extension of Kyoto for an indefinite period is in fact agreeing that the BRICS etc have had their way. Us legally binding targets, the rest platitudes.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Completely ignoring morality and trivia, the point is that China’s position guarantees that climate change, if it is caused by carbon emissions, will continue to happen.

As was obviously the most likely outcomes last week as well, and the week before that, and the year before that and has in fact been obvious every time I’ve considered it. Painfully obviously more likely than any alternative, like a punch in the face.

And I still can’t fathom how apparently intelligent people seem to have believed otherwise.

Global civilisational collapse has probably been consistently more likely than global agreement. There was, pre-GFC, the chance that the EU elites would force their citizens to pay for the world’s reductions, but this seems rather unlikely now, to say the least.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Patrick that’s pathetic. Don’t you understand what a triumph has been achieved in Durban? After 20 years + of gruelling negotions we have a broad commitment to negotiate a binding agreement within only 3 more years!!! And then its full speed ahead to start saving the world in a further 5 years.

Everybody should be dancing in the street. I think even Combet cracked a smile at this earth-saving success.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Why us, why now, why us, why now, why us, why now. It’s enough to make a grown man (with a decidedly skeptical stance on the benefits of continued economic growth as measured narrowly) weep.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

Hi Ken,

yes, talkfest indeed. I couldn’t be bothered blogging the obvious things about the latest climate circus so happy to see you took up the mantle.

The best news I have heard the last year about the possibilities of a technological fix to climate change is advances in solar panels. They are having another go at increasing the abysmal efficiency of solar receptors by means of hybrid surfaces. No real breakthrough yet, but maybe the hope of one.

The rest has been business as usual. The gulf between reality and pretense is as wide as ever.

Mel
Mel
10 years ago

my last comment did not appear

Mel
Mel
10 years ago

dear mods, could my comment that disappeared please be rescued. thanks guys.