Air pollution in China
China's air pollution may actually help the country cut emissions. [DepositPhotos]

Pretty soon we'll have to stop blaming China for global carbon emissions

The United States is lagging behind.

The House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held its first meeting of the year yesterday, which featured a lot of talk about United States-China relations and the matter of emissions reduction.

“Republicans keep circling back to China, saying if China won’t commit to major reductions, the U.S. shouldn’t either,” National Geographic environment reporter Sarah Gibbens wrote in a tweet during the meeting.

It’s true that China has a significant part to play in the global quest to keep warming below the crucial threshold of two degrees Celsius. But the connection between what the U.S. is doing (or not doing) and what China is doing (or not doing) is more complex than a simple either-or. Here’s what you need to know:


Rather than being an issue of science policy, says Erwan Monier, a UC Davis climatologist, “I think the issue is more philosophical.” The idea that the U.S. should wait because other countries like China need to make more reductions than we do is “rhetoric that works perfectly for the status quo,” he says.

But the status quo is costly now, and it’s going to become more costly in the future. “The climate system is going to respond to emissions,” Monier says. Those responses are already having impacts around the United States and around the globe.

By waiting to act, the United States “puts the burden on others” to reduce emissions well beyond their commitments in the Paris Agreement “or it puts the burden on itself later on.” That latter scenario is much more likely, he says.


As for China, “the idea they’re not doing anything is not true,” says Monier. China is actually well-positioned to work on this issue because citizens care deeply about a closely related issue: air pollution. A widely cited 2015 report included the estimate that air pollution is a major factor in 1.6 million deaths in China each year. Air-pollution related smog causes or worsens respiratory conditions, blocks out the sun, and spreads soot and dust everywhere. “There’s a lot of policies that can address both,” says Mornier.


Source: Popular Science