China is halting the march to net zero

Theo McDonald

In September 1961 President John F. Kennedy spoke to the United Nations warning of the danger posed by nuclear weaponry. 

“Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness,” he said. 

Displaying the clairvoyance of Gandalf, Kennedy presciently added that, “The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.” 

A few years later an American U-2 spy plane would capture satellite imagery appearing to show such weapons in the sights of the U.S homeland on the island nation of Cuba. 

The world was on the brink of destruction. 

Leadership was required. 

While that particular nuclear dilemma was averted, in the succeeding years arduous negotiations and diplomatic travails would come to define the Cold War period – a war in which no weapons were actually fired but bluster, taunts, and threats ran amok.

In the 1980s grass roots mass movements such as the Nuclear Freeze Campaign would encourage both powers to limit their nuclear capabilities for the sake of humanity. 

Finally in the early 90s President George H.W Bush, following on from the work of his predecessors, and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). Both signatories would be prevented from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads among other arms reduction promises. 

As a result close to 80 per cent of strategic nuclear weapons would be dissolved ushering in a period of relative stability and peace with the political scientist Francis Fukuyama going a step further framing the cessation of Cold War hostilities as ‘the end of history.’ 

Right now, the world is on the precipice of another humanity defining challenge that could spell disaster for generations to come. The climate crisis requires that same mutuality of commitment to overcome but is alas sorely lacking. 

While the West has risen to the challenge of aiming for net-Zero others have strategically and, dare I say, skilfully avoided this aim. 

In 2019, the People’s Republic of China surpassed the world in greenhouse gas emissions. China is now the world’s largest polluter accounting for close to 30 per cent of all emissions with no sign of abating. 

While the rest of the world has run away from coal faster than the late Maggie Thatcher did, the one-party state has embraced the dirty form of energy with zealotry: from 2000-2020 its coal capacity increased five-fold now accounting for close to half the world’s consumption. 

Climate agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol and the more recent Paris Climate Accords allow China to hide behind the veneer of developing-nation status to avoid adhering to the same obligations imposed on other nations in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Simply put: China presents itself as a nation still developing thus is absolved from abiding by the same climate targets of ‘developed’ nations such as Ireland which is currently labouring through burdensome CO2 reductions such as the loss of its once bustling peat industry and high energy bills. 

This is despite the fact that China is the second largest economy and produces more billionaires than any other country on earth. 

So while Ireland sacrifices parts of its economy to reduce its CO2 emissions China gets a free ride despite its meteoric rise from impoverishment to prosperity. 

Indeed, Ireland now has a statutory obligation to reach net-Zero by 2050, meanwhile, China has given a flimsy promise to reach this target by 2060 – ten years later! 

This is nothing short of MAD; MAD I say. 

Why MAD?

MAD is the acronym that allowed the two Cold War enemies to reach a mutually binding agreement to halt hostilities. The concept of mutually assured destruction – that in the event of a nuclear strike both the attacker and defender would face annihilation – gave both the Soviets and the Americans the impetus required to reach an arms reduction settlement. 

China clearly does not view the climate crisis this way. Rather the People’s Republic views climate targets as a zero-sum game. If the Americans had asked the Soviets to reduce their arms with no reciprocality attached you can bet they would’ve said нет faster than you can say Jack Robinson. 

In a recent visit to Hong Kong Transport Minister Eamon Ryan extolled the nation for having ‘dramatically changed.’ China has “risen people out of poverty,” he added after posting a glamorous shot in a Hawaiian t-shirt with the ex-British colony’s illustrious skyscrapers gleaming in the background. The point was not lost on many that China has accrued this vast wealth and development on the back of fossil fuels – fuels they have no intention of relinquishing any time soon. 

It’s about time the nations of the world demand China adhere to the same carbon reductions that the rest of us have to adhere to. If not it will make a mockery of the sacrifices the rest of the world is making. 

Theo McDonald

Image credit: Getty Images