Wednesday, December 06, 2006

China & Global Warming

Interesting story on how China is handling its environmental issues.

Elizabeth Economy: China should stop blame game
By Elizabeth Economy - Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Last month the International Energy Agency announced that China would probably surpass the United States as the world's largest contributor of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 2009, more than a full decade earlier than anticipated. This forecast could spur China to adopt tough new energy and environmental standards, but it probably won't. China has already embarked on a very different strategy to manage its environmental reputation: launching a political campaign that lays much of the blame for the country's mounting environmental problems squarely on the shoulders of foreigners and, in particular, multinational companies.

While still in its initial stages, the campaign has gained steam over the past month. Senior Chinese officials, the media and even some environmental activists have charged multinational firms and other countries with exporting pollution, lowering their environmental manufacturing standards and willfully ignoring China's environmental regulations. Faced with growing international and popular discontent over the country's environmental crisis, China's leaders are tapping into anti-foreign and nationalist sentiments to deflect attention from their own failures.

In late October a top environmental official, Pan Yue, accused the developed countries of "environmental colonialism": of transferring resource-intensive, polluting industries to China and bearing as little environmental responsibility as possible. At the same time, a leading member of China's National People's Congress claimed that foreign companies were not only exporting their waste but also underpaying Chinese workers. When a Chinese nongovernmental organization released a list of 2,700 companies cited for violations of China's water regulations in late October, the ensuing media frenzy focused exclusively on the 33 multinationals, including 3M, Panasonic, PepsiCo and DuPont, and ignored the more than 2,600 Chinese companies similarly cited. Not surprisingly, Chinese bloggers have taken up the call, discussing the "eco-colonialist" policies of multinationals and calling for "eco-compensation." Even environmental activists who have worked closely with multinationals have accused these corporations of not practicing what they preach.

The logic behind the campaign is simple, if misguided. The rapidly approaching Olympic Games have brought an unwelcome spotlight on China's environmental situation. Beijing won its Olympics bid with the promise of the world's first "green" games. Five years later, there is no talk of a green Olympics, only of how extensive a shutdown of industry and transportation will be needed in Beijing and surrounding provinces just to ensure that the athletes can breathe. Moreover, the climate issue has focused the world's attention not only on China's contribution to global warming but also on its role as the largest contributor to a range of other global environmental problems such as ozone depletion, the illegal timber trade and marine pollution.