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The Biggest Threat to the Climate: China

2019 Fossil CO2 Total Emissions. Source: European Commission’s EDGAR Database

Upon his inauguration, President Biden issued a flurry of executive orders related to climate change, including one designating climate change a national security threat, one rejoining the Paris Accord, another halting the Keystone XL pipeline and yet another freezing petroleum leases and permits on federal land for 60 days.

The primary security threat by this new climate-change name looks the same as the leading national security threat in traditional terms: China. The totalitarian Communist dictatorship is responsible for almost 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the European Commission’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR).

China’s emissions are not only the world’s most, but they are increasing every year. U.S. emissions are about half as much and have been decreasing for over a decade. Half again lower is India, whose emissions account for about 7%.

The Administration should confront China on climate change and raise an international outcry about its renegade behavior.

The top four: China with 1,083 operating coal power plants, India with 281, the U.S. with 252 and Japan with 87. Source: Statista

Domestically and overseas, China continues to build noxious coal-fueled power plants. Meanwhile, fracking in the U.S. has generated increased supplies of natural gas, enabling the replacement of coal with natural gas plants which emit half the GHGs.

The Paris Accord serves as a fig leaf for China, allowing it to posture as climate-conscious, while doing the opposite. In 2015, China submitted a Nationally Determined Commitment (NDC) under the Paris Accord that made a mockery of the Accord.  It committed to stop increasing its GHG emissions by 2030. In other words, China committed to worsen global climate conditions for fifteen years — with a decade now remaining.

By rejoining the Paris Accord without confronting China, the Administration endorses this farce.

Restricting fracking endorses farce as well. Fracking has been, and continues to be, the most powerful driver of our declining emissions. Happily, Biden’s 60-day ban on leases on federal lands expired on March 21st and has not been renewed. A positive here in Connecticut, without considering the specifics, is the natural gas power plant project in Killingly that seems to be proceeding.

Fuel Mix Used In U.S. Electricity Generation

Edison Electric Institute based on data from U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy Info. Admin.

In addition to reducing emissions, fracking and natural gas have made the U.S. energy-independent with big foreign policy benefits.

May 10, 2021

The benefits could go much further. If natural gas can replace coal plants here in the U.S., it can do so abroad. The U.S. is beginning to export oil and gas (which Keystone XL would have facilitated). We could export on a preferential basis to India, which is now building coal plants. Using petroleum, this key ally could pursue economic development without following China’s disastrous path of massive GHG emissions.

In the purely economic sphere, hasty abandonment of all fossil fuels has significant costs. China illustrates this point in the opposite case: China is continuing – and increasing – its use of cheap coal, precisely because of the economic benefits of low-cost energy.

Why does the world community overlook China’s disastrous behavior?

Simple. China and its apologists construe climate change on a per-capita basis, saying China’s emissions are half of U.S. emissions because China has four times the population.

The fallacy here is obvious: mother earth does not care how many people damage the environment. For example, does it matter whether one person gives you a lethal dose of arsenic or four people each give you one-quarter of the lethal dose? You still die, right?

Apologists for the Chinese Communists assert further that China is a developing nation, with half the per-capita income as the U.S., so it would be “inequitable” to stifle China’s economic growth with emissions restrictions.

The fallacy here is just as obvious: mother earth does not care about “equity.”

The Paris Accord is at an important inflection point, with revised NDCs now due from all signers at this, the first of the 5-year intervals at which they are required. Only eight have been submitted, not including China’s.

If Biden is serious about climate change and national security, he should call upon all nations to commit in their revised NDCs to immediate and continuing reductions in GHG emissions, with no exceptions and no excuses. Second, enforcement provisions should be added to the Accord, committing all signatories to collective action against violators.

These provisions would add meaning and teeth to the Accord, which is now just diplomatic talky-talk. Then, the Accord might actually save the world from climate change, while, at the same time, serving as a soft power instrument to save the world from the traditional national security threat posed by an increasingly militaristic totalitarian Chinese Communist regime.

A version of this column appeared originally in Washington Examiner.


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