Climate Change Is Now in the Developing World’s Hands

What works?
Nov. 29 2013 8:45 AM

Climate Change Is Now in the Developing World’s Hands

Can their economic self-interest help us all?

(Continued from Page 1)

Further evidence that climate concerns aren’t driving energy decisions came earlier this month. Australia’s new conservative government floated bills to repeal the country’s tax on carbon emissions; it introduced an alternative carbon-reduction program, but many observers say that alternative won’t achieve the same degree of emission cuts. Days later, Japan, the home of Kyoto, announced it was abandoning one of its key carbon commitments. Japanese leaders said the country no longer would adhere to an earlier promise to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Instead, the government announced a less aggressive commitment that amounts to a 3 percent decrease in emissions over the same time period. The political switch infuriated environmentalists but is a concession to economic reality. In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan has idled the nuclear plants that were a carbon-free source of roughly one-third of the country’s electricity. Even as Japan races to ramp up power from solar and wind, it’s firing up coal-fired power plants, boosting the country’s emissions. The Japanese government’s top spokesman told reporters in Tokyo earlier this month that, particularly given his country’s post-Fukushima move away from nuclear power, its earlier pledge to slash emissions 25 percent “was totally unfounded and wasn’t feasible.”

Japan’s announcement elicited righteous indignation from China. China, which as a developing country was exempted from the Kyoto climate accord’s requirements, recently overtook the United States as the world’s top carbon emitter. As result, it has come under increasing international pressure to take on a carbon-reduction pledge. But Chinese climate negotiators at the Warsaw conference made clear their government has no intention of doing so, particularly when industrialized countries such as Japan are backpedaling.

China’s own emissions are soaring—not just because China has a population of 1.4 billion people but also because China manufactures for the world. And yet there are signs that China—yes, China!—may end up curbing its emissions more than any other country. It has pledged to ramp up the proportion of electricity it generates from nuclear and renewable energy. It has imposed relatively stringent fuel-efficiency requirements for cars. It’s rolling out a bevy of policies designed to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China
A worker inspects solar panels at in Dunhuang, China.

Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Advertisement

Why? Not primarily to curb carbon dioxide emissions. China is beginning to move toward a cleaner energy mix for reasons far more palpable than a colorless, odorless gas. The air in China’s major cities is often so dirty that it stings the eyes and sickens the lungs; that’s a public-health problem that could become a political threat to Beijing’s rulers. In addition, the push toward cleaner energy sources is creating new jobs and new export industries for China—another tangible political benefit.

China isn’t the only developing country that may end up curbing its greenhouse gas emissions for reasons other than climate concern. Brazil in recent years has markedly slowed deforestation in the Amazon—a major contributor to overall greenhouse gas concentrations, since trees consume carbon dioxide as they grow. In large part, that success is due to cash payments made to farmers who refrain from cutting down trees. Some of that cash comes from European governments and investors looking for cheap ways to satisfy requirements that they fight climate change. Yet studies in Brazil suggest that slowing deforestation brings economic benefits of its own. By focusing farmers’ attention on land that’s already cleared, rather than on clearing additional land, slowing deforestation tends to increase agricultural output, and thus income, from land already being farmed, according to some researchers.

Santarém, Para State, Brazil
This wheat plantation near Santarém, Brazil, used to be virgin Amazon rainforest.

Photo by Nacho Doce/Reuters

In the industrialized world, economic self-interest has gotten a bad environmental name: It’s the reason, critics say, for the rise in energy consumption that’s contributing to climate change. But in the developing world, where the fight against global warming will be won or lost, economic self-interest may prove the solution.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.