The China Excuse

Every time the UN meets to discuss solving the climate crisis - like it is this week - there's one excuse that invariably comes up... 

"If China doesn't change, then it doesn't matter what [enter city/region/country name] does."

According to this argument, China is the main problem. It's doing the most harm, and if it doesn't change it's carbon-intensive ways, then we're all doomed, regardless of what else we do.

Not only is this argument ethically unsound - we all have a responsibility toward the climate, especially weathier, global north countries - but it turns out that China is beginning to act. Right now.

Recently, China accounced that it would no longer build coal-fired power plants in the regions surrounding Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. The air pollution has just gotten out of control with residents from all walks of life feeling the impacts.

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Further, China has a goal of reducing its power generation from coal to below 65% by 2017, as well as getting wind and solar production up to 13% of the total energy pie. This is far from all that China can be doing to mitigate its climate impact, and we still need to encourage China to shift away from dangerous alternatives like Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) and nuclear, but these are steps in the right direction.

Lastly, China is currently piloting carbon trading markets as a potential precursor to a carbon tax. You read right: China is considering a national carbon tax. This would be a significant step toward the world's largest emitter curbing its climate change pollution.

All this said, we know that China is not acting fast enough. That's a fact. It still accounts for half of global coal consumption. There's still work to be done to hold China accountable to its new air pollution plan, and solving the climate crisis will be much more difficult if China doesn't take serious action.

But the main point is this: China is not, and should never have been, an excuse for climate inaction by elected officials around the world. Here are a couple such examples:

"The Australian coal industry will only survive because the Chinese, without a carbon tax, will do what we are no longer supposed to do: namely burn coal."

                                                                     -Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister

"If we got India, China, and other industrialized countries not working with us, all we're going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas."

                                                  -John Boehner, Speaker of the USA House of Representatives

These comments are infuriating, but it's important for us to hold influencers and decision-makers accountable. So, if you're aware of any politician or pundit using the China Excuse (or the India Excuse, Brazil Excuse, etc), tell us about them in the comments below. Bonus points if you can provide news sources or links.

Let's quit the China Excuse once and for all, and push for collective climate action in the face of excuses and inaction.