Can Green Trade Tariffs Combat Climate Change?

BERKELEY – In recent months, China has taken center stage in the international debate over global warming. It has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest source of greenhouse gases, and it became developing nations’ diplomatic champion at the recent United Nations climate negotiations in Bali. Now China may become the target of a full-fledged trade war that could destroy – or perhaps rescue – the chances of bringing rich and poor nations together to fight global warming.

The focus on China intensified late last year, when new data from the International Energy Agency and other research organizations revealed that China had overtaken the US as the largest source of greenhouse gases – and, more ominously, that its emissions are growing at a rate that exceeds all wealthy nations’ capacity to decrease theirs. Even if China met its own targets for energy conservation, its emissions would increase by about 2.3 billion metric tons over the next five years – far larger than the 1.7 billion tons in cutbacks imposed by the Kyoto Protocol on the 37 developed “Annex 1” countries, including the US.