There is more urgency to combat climate change than before, but how are the big economies – China, the US, India – getting on together? Each country has its own agenda and is experiencing its own growing pains of one kind or another.
How does a country emit such massive quantities of carbon in the first place?
The US consumes over twenty metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita, per year. America is an ‘Appendix I’ nation – highly developed. Comparatively, China consumes around six metric tons, and India two, per capita, per year.
China is urbanizing at a desperate rate, building an additional two billion square metres each year, which in twenty years time will constitute a ‘second China,’ according to the China Sustainable Energy Program. This equates to something like half of the annual new construction worldwide.
Chinese urbanization has raised the living wage across many of its 23 provinces and, technically, brought around six hundred million Chinese out of poverty. Whether that has any relevance relating to happiness, who knows?
India meanwhile is not urbanizing its rural spaces at such a rate. Instead the countryside is migrating to urban areas: three of its cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta – are in the world’s ten largest cities.
Yes, environmental responsibility is on every nation’s agenda, but it is no one’s priority. Businesses can prioritize sustainability and ‘justify’ it because it’s image defining, helps sales, and increases customer engagement. And then, after these arguments are put forward, that’s when people admit it’s just a morally better way to do business.
China’s priority is its economy. China wants to grow, to urbanize. India does too, but China’s urbanization program is more ambitious and to date has achieved far more. Both nations are invested in alternative energy but powered by fossil fuels. This looks set to continue, in China at least: 70% of China’s next generation power plants are coal.
China’s wind farms generate nearly sixty percent of the world’s wind energy, and it has committed to 20GW of PV per year by 2015. India has its own major renewables commitments too, planning to more than double its clean energy capabilities by 2017. The majority will be wind, followed by PV. Both China and India have such massive energy requirements that they will be using coal and gas for years to come – alternative technology is here but it’s waiting in the wings.
For China and India the renewables sector is a lucrative new export market as well as useful resource for building future infrastructure. Both countries are currently engaged in clean energy talks in Doha, as well as holding their own ‘strategic dialogues’, signing cooperative pledges worth $5.2bn in 2012, covering renewables, IT technology, steel, and electrical transmission lines. The agenda for 2013 is high speed rail and freight. Trade between the two nations has risen from $3bn in 2000 to $74bn last year.
Montek Singh Ahluwahlia of India’s Planning Commission: “Our ability to influence global decision making will be stronger if we work together, [and we can] certainly benefit by learning [from] the Chinese experience in the building of infrastructure and the handling of urbanization.”
What is the United States committed to do, environmentally?
America has invested quite significantly in clean energy, coal reduction, and improving fuel efficiency standards across the country. But it has set itself a comparatively low reduction target of 15% to attain by 2020, far lower than the UK’s 50% commitment, set to rise to 80% by 2050.
Nations that led the way with industrialization and consumerism – mostly Annex I nations – should surely lead the way with taking responsibility for these excesses, said a contingent of about ‘15-20 nations, headed by China and India. They explained, “Our work in Doha must ensure that Annex I parties (developed countries signed up to the Kyoto Protocol) take on ambitious and legally binding mitigation commitments”.
The talks in Doha will continue for around one more week.