To judge by the coverage in the Morning Star, COP26 has been little more than a China-bashing exercise by hypocritical western governments. As a statement from the Communist Party of Britain (published in the MS of 6-7 November) put it: “Attacks at Cop26 on China by US President Joe Biden and others ignore the fact that China is a developing country whose CO2 emissions per head are half those of the US, and whose solar and wind power generations have over the last seven years outstripped those of the whole European Union.”
In fact, the “attacks” on China were mild stuff. Biden claimed that progress in climate change is “going to require us to continue to focus on what China’s not doing” — words that may not be particularly helpful, but hardly amount to rhetoric of the “new cold war” that the CPB and Morning Star constantly harp on about.
A MS editorial (1 Nov) claims “In terms of carbon emissions per head, China today stands at 7.3 tonnes and the US at more than double that at 15.2... And in terms of relevant technologies China is well ahead. It produces 80 per cent of the world’s solar panels. It has over two-thirds of the world’s high-speed electric trains. It has as almost as many electric cars as the US and the EU combined — and 57 percent of its Belt and Road energy investments are for renewables as against 28 per cent two years ago”.
China’s is also the world’s biggest user of coal power and emitter of CO2 (some 28% of global emissions). But its population is vast, and on a per capita basis its emissions are (to quote leading China apologist Carlos Martinez, in the MS of Nov 5), “very ordinary — around the same level as Bulgaria or New Zealand.”
For once, Martinez gets it about right: China’s record is not as bad as it is sometimes made out. But it is far from the world-leading beacon of environmental progress that the MS and CPB would have us believe.
China has been expanding wind and solar power fast since 2011. But it has also continued to expand fossil-fuel power. Xi has recently pledge to halt finance for building of overseas coal-powered plants, but the 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of coal-power that China generates domestically will continue to grow, at least for a while. This is more than four times the capacity of either India or the United States, which are the next biggest generators of coal power.
TheMorning Star repeatedly refers to China as a “developing” country, emphasising that emissions accumulate over hundreds of years, whereas China’s industrial development is relatively recent.
Yes, Europe and the USA account for the bulk of historic emissions. But governments now have knowledge and options about new power-generation which they didn’t have centuries, or even decades, ago. We can’t undo the past. We must plan the future.
Xi declared that carbon emissions will continue to rise until 2030 and then decline to net zero by 2060. Russia, too has gone for 2060. America, Europe, Britain and Japan have pledged to reach net zero by 2050. The Morning Star hails China’s so-called “socialist modernisation”: “It utilises private capital. But... this is within developmental goals set politically and socially” (editorial 1 Nov).
What China’s apologists really mean is that in a one-party state rulers can plan in terms of centuries, while decadent Western democracies struggle to see beyond the next election.
Strange, then, that China’s environmental goals are even less adequate than those of America and Europe, and its per capita record on emissions is no better than Bulgaria or New Zealand.