China Environmental Law

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West Blamed for China’s Economic Rise

February 26th, 2009 · No Comments

Here’s something from the “I hope they didn’t spend too much money on that study” department: “West blamed for rapid increase in China’s CO2“.  The Norwegians are set to drop this bombshell old chestnut in a soon to be released report according to an article in the Guardian.

When you have structured an economy on an export model, it seems rather axiomatic that you are going to be making stuff in your country that people in other countries will be consuming.  In this scenario, who bears the “blame” for this fact?

This is not the 19th century and the commodity at issue is not opium.  China is not a victim now.  It has chosen a development model that encourages manufacture for export.  When making that stuff generates pollutants, it would certainly be fair to charge the ultimate consumers of those products for the pollution caused (or preferably, for installing the production controls necessary to reduce that pollution to levels that do not significantly harm the environment).  Ensuring that these costs are recouped and the necessary controls are installed and operated are matters over which the sovereign entity in which the product is made has primary, if not exclusive, responsibility.  It’s really a simple concept: enact pollution control laws and ensure that they are enforced.  If carbon is the issue (and no effective controls currently exist), impose a carbon export tax.

To suggest that importing countries are “to blame” for China’s pollution (be it traditional pollutants or carbon emissions) is to use language carelessly and provocatively.

If the Norwegian study proves anything, it is that the Kyoto Protocol’s common but differentiated responsibilities” approach creates carbon cost imbalances that can be exploited by governments and producers alike.  If a system is devised that makes the cost of carbon emissions the same in China as it is in, say, England, then China can rest assured that it is not unwittingly encouraging carbon “outsourcing.” Won’t that make everyone happier.

I encourage studies that analyze the environmental effects of making things far from the source of their consumption.  But let’s not interject unnecessary complexity into a area where it is already difficult enough to find consensus.  As the Guardian article notes:

Jonathon Porritt, head of the Sustainable Development Commission, said: “Ultimately, the only place to register emissions is in the country of origin - in this case, China. Otherwise, the whole global accounting system for greenhouse gases will be undermined by the complexity of double-accounting.”


Tags: carbon emissions · climate change

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