I’ve returned from my trip to Hong Kong, ready to provide some analysis of the climate change debate hosted by Intelligence^2 Asia “The west is full of hot air; Asia is saving the world from climate policy disaster.”
The debate proved to be less one-sided than I’d anticipated, though the focus of the discussion tended to drift from the proposal. At the heart of the defense, the argument is less that western climate policies such as the soon-to-be-abandoned Kyoto protocol are negatively impacting our environment – more that western policies are not sufficient, and do not adequately acknowledge a history where the majority of carbon dioxide emissions were generated from countries that are now industrialized and able focus on cleaner technology. Many developing nations do not have this luxury and must rely on cheaper, coal fired power to support their industrialization to enjoy lifestyle for which they have worked so hard to earn – particularly in countries such as India and China.
I can certainly sympathize with this point of view. Consider having spent your life working tirelessly to achieve the luxuries of a western lifestyle for your family (climate controlled buildings, cars, readily available electricity and water), and just as you are starting to see results you are told – by countries that had free reign on their emissions while developing their economies – that you must limit your rate of development because you are polluting too much in the process. It comes across as a hypocritical “do as I say and not as I do” argument. However, regardless of the extent to which it is unfair, there is a serious difference between the unknowingly ignorant practices of industrialized nations throughout the 20th century, when the significance of pollution was unknown, and ignorant policy making when new information has become available.
According to Wired magazine “If China’s carbon usage keeps pace with its economic growth, the country’s carbon dioxide emissions will reach 8 gigatons a year by 2030, which is equal to the entire world’s CO2 production today.” India is not far behind. Given that both countries are imposing plans that rely heavily on coal to meet their energy needs, it would be a stretch to say that “Asia is saving the world from climate policy disaster.” The audience of the debate felt the same and the proposal was voted down at a ratio of approximately 8:1. However, it was also made clear that there is a need to rethink our western policies. Any effective climate change policy must take into account the fact that Asia needs to develop, and will require large amounts of energy to build that infrastructure. While the donation of ‘carbon credits’ from industrialized nations to developing nations to compensate their emissions is a good start, it is not sufficient. What is needed is larger economic overhaul that values environmental preservation, and incentivizes people to make more conservative choices. And that is precisely what I will be talking about in my next post! In the meantime enjoy this picture taken from Lamma Island nearby Hong Kong which juxtaposes a coal fired power plant against a scenic ocean beach.