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Paul Jay speaks with Minqi Li about China’s and United States’ role in resolving the climate change crisis.

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking with Minqi Li. He’s an assistant professor of political economy at the University of Utah. And today we’re talking about climate change and China. Thanks for joining us, Minqi.


JAY: So we had this climate change conference at the United Nations, and the first headline was: “China’s getting serious about climate change”. And then the next day the headline was: “China’s not so serious about climate change.” So where are we?

LI: Well, I guess China is not that serious. But China’s paying good lip service.

JAY: First of all, does China believe there is a climate-change crisis? Do they believe what is the preponderance of scientific opinion? And if they believe it, are they doing anything about it?

LI: Well, the official stance right now is that they do believe in climate change. And on the other hand, while I’m in China, I do meet many people who are actually climate skeptics and suspect that this is one of the Western conspiracy to try to slow China’s development. As far as the official policy is concerned, has promised to reviews the so-called carbon intensity GDP or emission intensity of GDP. I think we should not confuse the carbon intensity with emissions. And what we do need right now is absolute reduction of emissions on a global level by 50 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. And China now already accounts for over 20 percent of global emissions. So that basically means China should share roughly the same kind of obligation as the world as a whole. However, instead, right now China is talking about its economy will continue to grow. It will only reduce the ratio of emissions relative to economy. That in fact will mean China’s emissions will continue to grow by 4 percent, 5 percent a year in the future. And so that will basically mean, if China’s emission continue to grow, there’s no hope for the world as a whole to achieve the goal of stabilizing the global temperature below 2 percent warming relative to pre-industrial time.

JAY: Now, China must point to the fact that the United States is doing very, very little itself. Congress is clearly on the path to coal as the main form of electrical energy in what they’re—generating electrical energy, which they’re saying will be the transition stage to alternative energy. But they’re going to have more expansion of the role of coal rather than natural gas, and who knows how serious this investment in alternative energy’s really going to wind up being, especially given the debt of the American government. So, I mean, what motivation, in terms of this competition with the United States, how much is this an issue for China that the US is more words than action?

LI: Well, this, of course, I think what people are saying about the US is very true, and the House bill on climate change by itself is inadequate, and we don’t yet know what will come out of the Senate. But on the other hand, while the US needs to do much more than what it has, China also needs to share the average global obligation. But, unfortunately, under the current global capitalist system, each nationstate primarily cares about national capital accumulation. And so, despite their rhetorical talk, there’s not really substantive progress they are making to actually save the humanity from climate catastrophes.

JAY: Is China really doing any less than the United States?

LI: That depends on how you measure it. What is going on right now is that both the US and China contribute about the same share for the global emissions, and so both contribute about 20 percent. So in that sense both of them share equal responsibility.

JAY: But is China doing any less to reduce their emissions than the United States is? I know there’s a lot of good language coming out of the United States, but in terms of real action, is China doing less than the United States? Or are they both just saying a lot of nice words?

LI: Both of them are saying a lot of good words. And if you want some statistics, China’s emissions are growing much more rapidly than the US’. And on the other hand, because China’s economy is growing rapidly, China is building more renewable energy capacity than the US. So I guess that both of them can claim some credit. In the meantime, both of them continue to make the climate worse.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Minqi.

LI: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you want more climate-change reporting—in fact, we would like to hire a producer to do nothing but climate-change reporting—so if you want that, we need you to click the Donate button. Thanks very much for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Minqi Li is an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah. He is the author of The Rise of China and The Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Pluto Press, 2009) and is the editor of Red China Website (a leading Chinese leftist website).  Minqi Li has published many articles in the field of political economy, the Chinese economy, global capitalist crisis, peak oil, and climate change.