As the heads of the biggest eight economies of the world gather today to talk about global warming, I find it sad that China continues to see sustainability as a burden on growth, not an opportunity to grow better. Certainly the US has been no pioneer in this and is only just beginning to grasp the notion that creating a sustainable economy is good for growth, not a limit on it. I had great hopes that China would be a leader in this but I believe I was wrong.
Why? Right before the G-8 meeting, the chairman of China’s economic planning agency came out with his country’s policy on climate change. It acknowledged the problem, said China was working on it but rejected any numerical caps on carbon emissions. China will probably soar past the US in 2008 as the greatest emitter of carbon into the atmosphere as it builds a new coal-fired electricity-generating plant every week. Mai Kai, the chairman of the agency, said that China was still developing and needed all the growth it could get.
I was hoping that China would understand that there could be no tradeoff between sustainability and growth if done right but this is not the case. There were suggestions of comprehension in Beijing over the years but clearly proponents of sustainable growth are not in charge of economic policy.
This could prove a huge problem for the planet in the years immediately ahead. The US finally tipped green in 06, following Europe by a decade. But China and India are needed to make a true effort to stop global warming. Bringing half a billion Chinese into the middle class from poverty over the next decade is a terrific thing but the cost will be very high if it is done with traditional means of economic growth. The planet will get warmer and dirtier.
China still has a chance to use sustainability to propel its economic growth. I’m hoping it will take it as the enormous pollution of its rivers, the spread of its deserts, and the darkening of its cities’ skies finally shows Beijing that the current path to modernity has an enormous price.
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