China gently asked to please think about playing nice someday

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has approached China, "warning" the country that it needs to reduce carbon emissions. [LINK] Will China take this warning to heart, and start cleaning up its act? Well, considering that 80% of China's electricity is from burning coal, and the well-used statistics that China is opening a new coal-fired power plant every week, I think not. 

Maybe I'm just feeling pessimistic today, but I just don't see China and India shaping  up in time to stop atmospheric CO2 levels reaching 450, and probably 550, ppm. The two countries have more than 2 billion people, and are both "developing" nations, which now seems to mean nations that are trying to replicate what the USA and other "Western" nations did 50 years ago. The desire to "catch up" with the developed world is so great that these giants can not rationally address climate issues. 

What is the solution? Well, ignoring geoengineering for now, the only way to get China and India to shift away from fossil fuels is to demonstrate a better system, that is more efficient and at least as cheap as the fossil fuel based one that has taken hold. One big obstacle on that front is that China has enormous coal reserves, so burning coal is amazingly cheap in China, and it's hard to imagine an energy system that will be cheaper for China than coal. That even holds for a system that will be cheap in, say, the USA, since such a system would either be sold to China or reverse-engineered, which would incur additional costs.

The IEA warns of some kind of regulation, which I guess could be effective if such regulations were very widely adopted. That would add up to the same kind of carbon tariffs that India wants to avoid. The problem is that China is such a gigantic manufacturer that it would be difficult for many countries (e.g., the USA) to penalize China without hurting themselves. Clearly this is a sticky issue, and there's not a good solution. The problem is that a solution is desperately needed to avoid dangerous levels of anthropogenic climate change.

I just came across an article in New Scientist that suggests China and the USA might be coming together on plans for reduced carbon emissions. In actuality, these are two unrelated stories. The one about China is kind of interesting. China's climate negotiator, Su Wei, says that in their next 5-year plan, China will likely reduce the "carbon intensity" of their energy production. Here's what he says, "China hasn't reached the stage where we can reduce overall emissions, but we can reduce energy intensity and carbon intensity." What does that mean? Not much. As I have to keep saying, it doesn't matter what the carbon emissions per capita are, only the total amount of carbon. Just because China will become more efficient in their use of energy doesn't mitigate global warming. In fact, by continuing to increase carbon emission, China continues to exacerbate the problem.

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