Linnabary: We Can Decarbonize Globally Through a Carbon Embargo

By Ian Linnabary, Opinion Writer


Climate change is undoubtedly a global issue that will affect every nation. We already see the dramatic effects of climate change through increased wildfires, rising sea levels and a rise in the global average temperature. Climate change is an issue we all should solve. Unfortunately, this is not the reality.

China is responsible for 27% of global greenhouse emissions, more than double the United States. These emissions are only growing, as China emitted more than the entire developed world in 2019. Clearly, any global strategy that wants to take meaningful climate action needs to address China boldly. That is why placing a carbon embargo on Chinese goods should be at the forefront of our global decarbonization strategy.

A Carbon Embargo Is a Solution

A carbon embargo, as proposed by the Climate Leadership Council, would place a fee on incoming goods to the U.S. that would be paid by the exporting country. In this case, China would pay for the carbon emitted in the process of making these goods.

The embargo would ​​”cover energy and non-energy, direct CO2 emissions and indirect CO2 emissions associated with energy production and carbon-intensive intermediate goods.” As part of the larger Climate Leadership Council plan, the U.S. would implement a domestic price on carbon, and the carbon embargo “will be calculated by multiplying the emissions described above by the U.S. carbon price when a good is traded across the border.”

The experts say if we want to have any hope of stopping climate change, something must be done about China. China is responsible for over a quarter of total global emissions. Even if the entire globe stopped emitting CO2 right now and China continued, we would not make a significant enough change to stop many environmental disasters. But China doesn’t seem to care for the gravity of the situation and their role in it, so much so that they plan on growing their emissions until 2030, which is irresponsible and dangerous.

CO2 emissions are a negative externality in the production process with no immediate cost. The only cost is the ill effects of climate change. If we know one thing about China, we know that China will do what is best for China. Time and time again China has made it clear they will go to any length to grow their power, without consideration for others. Subsequently, when the price of making goods in a carbon-intensive way goes up, China will do what is in their best interest, and that is lower their emissions in the production process.

The U.S. Is Paving the Way

Still, other nations need to lower their emissions to fight climate change, and the U.S. should do its part in facilitating such decarbonization. Efforts by the United Nations and the World Bank, more specifically, to help less developed countries begin the decarbonization process should be celebrated.

The World Bank’s low-interest loans have helped facilitate the building of sustainable technology in disadvantaged countries all over the globe. And, as the primary financer of the United Nations, the U.S. has and will continue to play a significant role in global decarbonization. But China should not be afforded this type of outreach. Given China’s massive human rights violations, we should not be financing any sort of economic or energy development in a country as morally bankrupt as China and the Chinese Communist Party. The carbon embargo will force China, a wealthy nation, to finance this transition.

While China’s per capita emissions are significantly lower than the U.S., this won’t matter when our coasts are underwater, and our forests are burning. Climate change will affect all of us. Some would suggest that the U.S. is the issue and hinders the fight against climate change. But what many like to forget is that the U.S. has taken bold action to reduce its carbon footprint, reducing our emissions at the fastest rate globally.

The U.S. has been able to get our emissions under control because we are a prosperous nation that wants to fight climate change. Other countries are not as financially fortunate as us, and the U.S. should continue to help facilitate decarbonization in other nations. But that type of help shouldn’t be afforded to China. If China wanted to, they could begin the decarbonization process today. Unfortunately, they are choosing to pollute until 2030 and beyond. We need a carbon embargo to force China’s hand.

Response to Will Shadley

Saying that China’s rise in emissions is aimed at improving the lives of their population lacks nuance. In pursuit of replacing the U.S. as the only global superpower, China has exploited its population repeatedly. They are engaging in forced labor practices that don’t respect individuals. To put it in clear terms, China isn’t increasing its reliance on fossil fuels to improve the standard of living for its population. They simply want to grow their production capacity in the cheapest way possible.

Furthermore, this conversation should center around China, the nation responsible for over a quarter of current global emissions, and soon more. This point isn’t to discount the importance of historical emissions, but we can only control current emissions, not the past. Our strategy against climate change shouldn’t be based solely on the past but on what we can do today to subvert this crisis.

As previously stated, China is a wealthy nation that can finance a transition to sustainable energy today if they so choose. In fact, they have already begun to exert dominance in the industry to compete with the U.S. Let’s continue to assist allied developing nations in this effort, but not China.


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