Linnabary: China’s Emissions Are Out of Control


By Ian Linnabary, Opinion Writer


World leaders, climate scientists and activists recently gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 Conference to show solidarity in preventing and strategizing against climate change. The United States, for the first time since the Trump Administration, has a chance to restore itself as a leader in preventing climate change. The Trump Administration, despite lowering our emissions domestically, failed to become a global leader on this issue. We withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords, and the administration continually painted climate change as a non-issue.

Given our returning chance to lead, many hoped we would implore the world’s number one polluter, China, to lower their excessive emissions. Unfortunately, China made no meaningful commitments to change its emissions. But China must do its part to make significant progress against climate change.

Little Action From China

China is inarguably the world’s number one polluter, polluting more than the entire developed world combined. The U.S. accounts for 11% of global emissions, while China shoulders responsibility for 27% — more than double what the U.S. emits. Given this massive disparity, the U.S. and other global powerhouses should push for China to decarbonize now. However, our leaders would rather make efforts to only decarbonize locally while making little effort to decarbonize globally.

President Xi Jinping of China opted not to attend COP26. Instead, he sent a letter expressing concern over the climate issue, but his letter was as empty and insincere as his seat at the conference. The letter said a lot without saying much. In the letter, President Xi said China’s plans to address the crisis “will be rolled out, coupled with supporting measures.” But for years now, China’s climate plan has been vague, unclear and insufficient. China says it plans to max out its emissions into 2030, with no attempt to lower them until after that.

At the conference, China also committed to no longer financing the construction of coal power plants, which the country has done despite its carbon intensity. But China has tripled its emissions in the last three decades, and they still plan on growing their emissions. This demonstrates the opposite of commitment to tackling climate change.

But we know that the climate crisis isn’t knocking at the door — it’s breaking that door down.

China’s Role in Climate Change

Although China is on the other side of the world, the U.S. has felt the effects of its disproportionate emissions. In particular, Utah has experienced many damaging effects of climate change. We have seen an increase in droughts and wildfires, and a rise of three degrees Fahrenheit in average temperatures. Utahns’ health has suffered due to these increased temperatures. While Utah and the U.S. have made their own contributions to climate change, the effects of China’s excessive emissions undoubtedly play a role in global warming.

Given China’s false promises and commitments, we must ask how we can hold them accountable. A significant source of Chinese emissions comes from manufacturing, with the Chinese industrial sector alone comprising 24.1% of global emissions. Given this, many would say, “stop buying Chinese goods,” but that’s easier said than done.

The massive disparity between Chinese imports to the U.S. and U.S. exports to China demonstrates that we depend on China for much of our consumer goods. This disparity exists because China can produce goods at a much lower price than the U.S., translating to consumers wanting Chinese products more. Even I sometimes purchase Chinese goods over domestically-produced ones because of the price.

Carbon Embargos as a Solution

We have tried tariffs in the past, but those have only hurt consumers and haven’t sufficiently affected consumption patterns. Instead, we need a carbon embargo. The U.S. has made massive efforts to make our production process less carbon-intensive, while China hasn’t. This decarbonization has been part of why U.S. goods are more expensive, and as such, China should pay for that difference.

A carbon embargo would place a fee on goods imported to the U.S. based on the emissions involved in manufacturing that good. The difference between this and a tariff is that the fee is paid by China, not consumers, making the price of manufacturing goods go up in such a carbon-intensive way. In addition, given China’s dependence on the U.S. as a trading partner, they won’t stop trading with us.

One nation acting alone cannot solve climate change. As the Climate Leadership Council puts it, “A well-designed system of border carbon adjustments will enhance the competitiveness of American-based firms that are more energy-efficient than their foreign competitors, while preventing carbon leakage and free-riding by other nations.” China must start decarbonizing now — not later.


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