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India, China and the Climate

The passage of the House climate bill — discussed in our first hour today — has been greeted with enthusiasm in many quarters. But in some ways, the real question is whether a global framework can be established in Copenhagen in December, when countries will negotiate a new international treaty to curb greenhouse gases. After all, America emits only about one fifth of greenhouse gases worldwide — far more than its share per capita, but only one piece in the world’s energy-consumption pie chart. One of our guests today, Harvard economist Robert Stavins, underscored the urgency of getting other countries on board:

I think the most important question with this initial foray is not so much what it leads to next for the United States but whether or not this has an effect of helping the United States to play a leadership role in international negotiations to put in place a post-Kyoto Protocol climate regime…

Two countries in particular will hold huge sway in those negotiations: India and China. In India, the Environment Minister’s office issued a statement in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. bill’s passage that seemed less than promising for future negotiations: “India cannot and will not take emission reduction targets because poverty eradication and social and economic development are first and over-riding priorities.”

In China, which now leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions, news of the U.S. climate effort got a mixed review. The government-backed China Daily ran with the headline, “China Unhappy With U.S. Climate Bill.” A government minister, though, gave a more equivocal response:

We think that we should give a positive evaluation to this bill…. But in the area of tackling climate change, especially on the issue of cutting emissions, if they could take some more positive, effective measures it would give a bigger impetus to the year-end talks.

As Prof. Stavins said today during our hour, little matters if China and India don’t get involved. The math is simple: if China and India fail to take action, it will be impossible to avert reaching the amount of carbon in the atmosphere that many scientists now believe would create dangerous warming.

And just to complicate matters, another of our guests today, John Broder of The New York Times, has written that some tariff provisions in the House bill — which would penalize countries that don’t accept a carbon cap — are generating controversy. Indeed, those provisions could alienate the very allies the U.S. needs in Copenhagen.

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