China: Poor or rich?
By Steven Mufson
Is China, where per capita income is less than a tenth of that in the United States, a developing country that needs - or deserves - aid from the world's developed countries to pay for projects to shrink its greenhouse gases? Or is China, with more than $2 trillion in reserves, a wealthy nation that can pay its own way to a less carbon intensive future?
That's the heart of the verbal sparring Friday between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafe and the top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern. Stern said earlier this week that U.S. money would not go to help China clean up its emissions. The Chinese vice minister said Stern's comments showed "either a lack of common sense or [were] extremely irresponsible."
It's not a theoretical dispute about the future. China already benefits from the lion's share of the offset credits in Europe, effectively using European funds to help finance everything from more efficient boilers in factories to wind farms. By selling the credits from approved projects in Europe, projects in China and other developing nations get extra revenues. Nearly half of the offset credits generated by projects approved by the Clean Development Mechanism, the United Nations agency responsible for reviewing offset projects, are from China, according to the CDM web site. And a quarter of the projects approved have been in China.
But on Dec. 4, the CDM rejected several Chinese wind projects, arguing that they did not show additionality, which in plain English means the CDM decided that the wind farms would be built anyway with existing Chinese incentives and didn't need help. If this is the beginning of a pattern, it could cost China several billion dollars a year.
That explains some of the outrage the Chinese vice minister was expressing.
A web site of the Department of Climate Change at China's National Development and Reform Commission, posted an item this week with another quote from Li Gao, an official with the Chinese delegation in Copenhagen: "The Chinese Delegation noticed with serious concerns that during the past year, the development of CDM projects in specific areas was confronted by unprecedented difficulties and barriers, part of which are caused by the irrational, non-transparent and unfair decisions..."
But in the United States, the idea of a climate package that would simultaneously raise energy costs and send money to China could be political dynamite and that's why Stern - and every other U.S. official - is trying to steer clear of that notion.
Steven Mufson| December 11, 2009; 1:30 PM ET Save & Share:
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