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Two Cheers for China’s Climate Obstruction

COPENHAGEN – Since the Copenhagen climate summit’s failure, many politicians and pundits have pointed the finger at China’s leaders for blocking a binding, global carbon-mitigation treaty. But the Chinese government’s resistance was both understandable and inevitable. Rather than mustering indignation, decision-makers would do well to use this as a wake-up call: it is time to consider a smarter climate policy.

China is unwilling to do anything that might curtail the economic growth that has enabled millions of Chinese to clamber out of poverty. This development can be seen in the ever-expanding Chinese domestic market.

In the next six months, one-quarter of young Chinese consumers intend to buy new cars – the main source of urban air pollution – up an astonishing 65% from a year ago. A poll by China Youth Daily revealed that eight of ten young Chinese are aware of climate change, but are prepared to support environmental policies only if they can continue to improve their living standards – including acquiring new cars.

The cost of drastic, short-term carbon cuts is too high. The results of all major economic models reveal that the much-discussed goal of keeping temperature increases below two degrees Celsius would require a global tax of €71 per ton to start (or about €0.12 per liter of gasoline), increasing to €2,800 per ton (or €6.62 per liter of gasoline) by the end of the century. In all, the actual cost to the economy would be a phenomenal €28 trillion a year. According to most mainstream calculations, that is 50 times more expensive than the climate damage it would likely prevent.