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Rethinking Sino-US relations

Chu Zhaogen

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Many Chinese commentators worry about the risks of the United States introducing carbon tariffs. Chu Zhaogen urges them to take a long-term view.

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United States energy secretary Steven Chu and commerce secretary Gary Locke visited China last month to explore where there might be mutually beneficial US-China partnerships in the clean-energy sector.

This came a few weeks after the US House of Representatives passed a bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill. This bill, if it were made law, would establish a form of carbon cap-and-trade system in the United States; it could also permit the US to impose import tariffs on countries that do not adopt emissions reductions, including China. Therefore, Chinese scholars expressed opposition to the bill; some predicted that developing countries would unite against it.

However, such views demonstrate a lack of in-depth consideration or research. China does not have to completely oppose carbon tariffs; there is a proactive option that China can take.

The movement towards a low-carbon world is inevitable. This process has gradually risen in importance – from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and its entry into force in 2005. In December 2009, at a United Nations conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the world’s countries will attempt to reach a new agreement on emission reductions for 2012. There is now a consensus about the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for the sake of humanity’s common interests.

In terms of concrete action, the European Union has made a low-carbon economy a goal of its future development, with targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels; to reduce primary energy consumption by 20% by 2020; and to increase the proportion of energy consumption from renewable sources to 20% by 2020. In the United States, the Energy Independence and Security Act will accelerate the development of biofuels. Meanwhile, Japan has undertaken to cut emissions by between 60% and 80% by 2050 and establish a carbon market. Developing nations, such as China and India, have also produced programmes and legislation to develop renewable energy sources.

The global economy, having been through the Industrial Revolution and Information Technology Revolution, is now entering the low-carbon revolution.

China needs to change. The country suffers a greater tension between its population, resources and environment than developed nations; and these are long-term problems. For many years, the Chinese government has been calling for an improved and upgraded economic structure, with greater conservation of resources and environmental protection identified as mid- to long-term strategic goals. In 2006, China accounted for 5.5% of global GDP, but accounted for 15% of total coal consumption, 30% of steel consumption and 54% of concrete consumption. China’s economic growth has been 25% more expensive than the world average.

To produce US$1 million in GDP, China expends three times as much energy as the United States, five times as much as Germany and six times as much as Japan. A tonne of coal in China does 28.6% as much work as in the United States, 16.8% as in the European Union or 10.3% as in Japan. High investment and high consumption have led to pollution and inefficiency. One-third of China’s land area is affected by acid rain.

China cannot follow in the footsteps of the developed nations: to pollute first, then clean up later. The country’s only route to sustainable development is the conservation of resources and environmental protection. Therefore, the external pressure of carbon tariffs on China and other developing nations is not necessarily a bad thing. If that pressure leads to action, and China introduces domestic carbon taxes, this could help to make necessary changes.

A low-carbon economy will benefit China overall. However, both China and the United States have the same problem: the economic impact of such policies on polluting companies. This is why the last US president, George W Bush, would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The administration under Barack Obama supports climate legislation, but they still face obstacles at every stage.

Many economists and international institutions suggest that a carbon tax would be the best way to harness market forces to address climate change. Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Sweden and some parts of the United States and Canada already collect carbon taxes. In order to maintain its international image, China should adopt emissions reductions measures; it could be more effective than a fortune spent on public relations. Even Bush would agree that refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol damaged his international reputation hugely. Importantly, if major resource consumers, such as the United States and China, adopt low-carbon economies, the prices of oil, gas and raw material will fall significantly, which will be beneficial for China’s development. Moreover, there are profits to be made from carbon trading and low-carbon industries.

As the world moves towards a low-carbon economy, China should cut its emissions to protect its own long-term interests. This is a matter of saving the planet and the future of humanity. Of course, one can advocate a low-carbon future without supporting US carbon tariffs. Here China can take the moral high ground, and show it is courageously taking on the responsibilities of a major nation by putting forward demands that protect its own interests and supporting the adoption of global emission reductions, thus realising a win-win partnership for China and the United States.

Chu Zhaogen is a researcher at Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences; he is a widely published writer and columnist.

This article first appeared in the
Oriental Morning Post. It is translated and reproduced here with permission.

Homepage image by MatthewBradley

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I disagree

The author should make it clear that carbon taxes are NOT carbon tariffs. China should implement the low-carbon economy strategy as soon as possible. But the fact is that the peak of China's greenhouse-gas emissions will not come until 2020. Therefore, we cannot agree with US's unilateral action to go above UNFCCC.

Translated by Catlin Fu



Wrong Logic

What on earth does the author want to say? I cannot find any clue!
In the first two paragraphes, he seems to be discussing the stance China should take on carbon tariff. The author claims that the opposition against the bill is based on "in-depth consideration or research".
However, the assertion is followed with a long sermon on why China must be low-carbon. To me, opposing carbon tariff and opposing low carbon or low carbon development are different. Carbon tariff is neither necessary, nor sufficient for low-carbon development. Rather, it's a trade-related measure, which is possibly imposed against the backdrop of climate change and may have multiple purposes and side effects. In most part of his speech, the author argues that it is imperative to promote low-carbon development. But this does not necessarily mean imposing carbon tariff is reasonable. In the second paragraph from bottom, the author mistakenly takes carbon tax as the same with carbon tariff.
After the perplexing discussion, the author says in the last paragraph "of course, one can advocate a low-carbon future without supporting US carbon tariffs", undoing everything he preaches in the previous paragraphes. Seeing no clear perspective or position, I'm completely at sea!

Translated by Yina



the conotation styled

Is it uncertain whether the Chinese development pattern of “the conotation styled” mentioned in the article a new term or nothing but an incorrect translation?



What the author means to say

I think what the author means to say is, carbon tariff is one of the considerable low-carbon developing strategyies. We can’t reject carbon tariff just because the US-proposed carbon tariff solution is not doable. The whole world need to explore together the feasible carbon tariff approach.

(translated by Fangfang CHEN)


我曾经听过法国人类学家Anne Cheng ( 的一个讲座,她说,美国和中国的广泛交流正 “从机动车道升级到高速公路”。很难相信,美国碳关税的威胁会成为中国不采取减排措施的主要原因.

(translated by Fangfang CHEN)

the unknown freeway

I have been listening to the conference made by the French sinologist Anne Cheng ( and she said that the university exchanges between USA and China were running on a "freeway updated every day motorway". It's hard to believe that the threat of an American carbon tariff is the chief reason China shouldn't adopt emissions reductions measures.



Confused author

This article is far below the standard what China Academy of Social Sciences can do. Indeed, The energy consumpted and carbon emissed per GDP in China are much higher than those of the US,Japan and Europe. it's not only an issue of productivity, but also referred to the industrial structure. If we take a look at the carbon emissions from manufacturing, what is the gap between China and the developed countries? Is there much difference in China's and rich countries' high energy-consuming industries?

What will happen if we move all the high energy consuming industries out of China to US, Japan and Europe?

(translated by Fangfang CHEN)



Naive thinking

The shift from high-carbon economy to low-carbon is a long period of transition, which cannot be reached at a single leap. Capital and technology are the key elements.

How can Chinese government not understand the advantage of low-carbon economy? The view of the authoris good. But it sounds naive to me. Led by other people's view, the author has fallen into the trap of a few countries advocate.

(Translated by Fangfang CHEN)



The names are different, that’s all

The domestic goods tariff is called a carbon tax, and the foreign goods tariff is called a carbon tariff. The author sees the long term view! (Translated by Michelle Deeter)



New Bottle, Old Wine

Free trade and globalization, protection of IP, now this Carbon tax/tariff. Nothing has changed, all of these are proposed and promoted by the developed world to rip off, yes, rip off, the developing countries. They are trade rules designed to benefit the rich. China's only proper response would be to learn how the game is played, and play it better than the Yanks.

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