Determining who pays for carbon emissions

US energy secretary Stephen Chu’s suggestion of taxing imports from countries that do not enact carbon reduction schemes has not been looked on too favourably by China.

China’s top climate negotiator had already been arguing for a quite different approach – that carbon produced in creating exports for western countries should not be considered part of China’s emissions, but instead that of the consuming countries. This idea gained momentum after a report last month that a third of China’s emissions were produced creating goods for export to western countries.

China’s top climate negotiator Li Gao reportedly called the tariff idea ‘a disaster‘, and another senior climate change negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, also spoke out against the idea.

The TNR Energy & Environment blog attended the session where Xie spoke at the Carnegie Endowment yesterday, where they say Xie described it as an excuse for trade protectionism.

Xie was also asked what steps he thought China would take at the Copenhagen climate negotiations this December, and replied that were three major issues at play in these ongoing talk. First, the developed countries need to put forward concrete plans to reduce their emissions by such-and-such an amount by 2020. There also need to be discussions about how the richer countries could fund clean-energy and efficiency projects in poorer countries—tech transfer is one big briar patch here (not least due to China’s porous IP regime). And, after all that, the developing countries are supposed to submit ideas for reducing their carbon-dioxide emissions.

On a proposed charging system for emissions on goods that are traded, TNR writes “while he was open to working out various carbon-trade agreements through the WTO, this was likely to be unduly complicated and probably not the most effective way of reducing emissions.”

This is in fact the main argument against any suggestion of accounting for export-based emissions: it’s simply too complicated.

Charlie McElwee, an environmental lawyer in Shanghai, says he is not convinced of the cohesiveness of China both supporting carbon export costs and opposing import tariff:

Ah I see, China’s argument has a catch: developed countries should be charged with both their domestic (non-exported) carbon production and the carbon production associated with their imports, but they should be required to enact all reduction goals on the back of their domestic industries.  Developing country exporters should be permitted to continue their exports unencumbered with carbon emissions costs.  That’s a patent non-starter, of course, and that fact that China is even proposing it highlights the clumsy feel of its current climate change negotiating posture.

Related links:

A turning point for US-China on emissions?

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