China and the U.S. Trade Environmental Barbs

Beijing Smog          Photo: 螺钉, Wikimedia CC

Yesterday the Chinese government released a detailed condemnation of the U.S. government’s environment and climate policies.  Labeled as a “Fact Sheet of Environmental Damage Caused by the US,” it contains a litany of U.S. environmental failures including being the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses per capita in the world, naming the Trump administration for repeatedly calling global warming a hoax, and challenging the international consensus on climate change. It was apparently a response to a similar “Fact Sheet” from the State Department dated September 25th that accused the Chinese of being “the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases; the largest source of marine debris; the worst perpetrators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and the world’s largest consumer of trafficked wildlife and timber products.”

Why This Matters:  The U.S. shot at China came after the Chinese announced at the UN General Assembly that China plans to be climate neutral by 2060.  What did the U.S. pledge there to do?  Nothing.  They chose instead to attack China — not thinking about the pot-kettle potential. Not very diplomatic.  Instead of trading insults, the two largest global emitters should be trading proposals for how to outdo each other in a race to achieve climate neutrality the soonest.  As Yanzhong Huang, a Chinese expert wrote in the New York Times in September, “when the U.S. and China fight, it is the environment that suffers.”  

China Said

The Chinese Fact Sheet began with this stunning statement about the U.S.:

“As the most advanced developed country in the world today, the United States has a poor track record in the environmental field. It has not only backpedaled on its domestic environmental protection policies but also seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance. It is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker. With regard to what it has done to the environment, the US has yet to justify itself to its own people and to other people in the world.”

The Chinese went on to quote The New York Times on the fact that “since the Trump administration took office, nearly 70 major environmental policies have been reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back and more than 30 additional rollbacks are still in progress.” They also stated that the US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and steadfastly refuses to join the global biodiversity conservation cooperation system.

All True.

The U.S. Said

The U.S. Fact Sheet begins with this accusation, “As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said, “Too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on willful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people–and the world–deserve better.”  It goes on to state that:

“Despite claims of international environmental leadership, China’s energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are rising.  It has been the world’s largest annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter since 2006.  China’s total emissions are twice that of the United States and nearly one third of all emissions globally.  Beijing’s energy-related emissions increased more than 80 percent between 2005-2019, while U.S. energy-related emissions have decreased by more than 15 percent.”

The U.S. also argues that China’s largest foreign policy play, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), “aspires to create a network of enhanced overland and maritime trade routes to better link China with the world.  However, implementation of BRI lacks clear environmental guidelines, safety standards, and worker protections.  Many BRI-funded projects do not meet international standards, leaving countries to deal with the harmful consequences long after a project is completed.”

All True.

To Go Deeper: Read the Chinese Factsheet here and the U.S. Factsheet here.  And China’s Carbon Neutral pledge here.

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