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Former UK Env Minister: US hiding behind China on climate change

By John Parnell

The USA should stop hiding behind China on climate change, according to former UK Environment Minister John Gummer.

Speaking to RTCC, Mr Gummer, now known as Lord Deben, praised the efforts of China as well as South Africa, Brazil and India but called for their domestic efforts to be complemented with continued development of the UN sponsored international climate negotiations.

“Proportionally, China is arguably doing more to combat climate change than any other country,” said Lord Deben.

Through his work as President of GLOBE International, a network of environment legislators, Lord Deben has helped develop domestic and bi-lateral climate action in several countries, including China, India and South Africa.

“The fact is, China believes in climate change and is trying to find a way to shoulder a proper proportion of the burden internationally. And, internally it is finding ways to deal with the very serious effects of climate change.

“In general, the US doesn’t believe in climate change and it isn’t trying to find ways to solve the problems internationally. It is trying to find a way that it doesn’t get blamed for any failure,” said the former Tory Minister.

Lord Deben also accused the US of hiding behind statistics about the scale of Chinese emissions and using them as an excuse for inaction.

“There are all sorts of faults with that. First of all it isn’t up to China to go first [on emission cuts] because the Americans have contributed more to climate change and have a huge historic responsibility.

“Secondly, the US is producing wildly more pollution per head than China.

“Thirdly, much of the pollution in China is on the behalf of the US because they exported their [manufacturing] jobs to China. Yet they haven’t reduced their own emissions,” said Lord Deben.

Data from the World Bank for 2008 estimates that carbon emissions per capita in the US are 17.9 metric tonnes compared to just 5.3 for China.

The US frequently points to the total magnitude of China’s emissions as an argument that it should commit to make cuts first.

A Norwegian study in 2009 compared the countries’ consumption-based emissions. Rather than being linked to the emissions made within a specific territory, they are based on the carbon related to the raw material, manufacture and shipping of the products consumed in a country.

This method puts Chinese emissions at 3.1 metric tonnes for China compared to 29 metric tonnes in the US.

A call in the UK for emissions reporting to switch to the consumption-based model was rejected earlier this month, with Climate Change Minister Greg Barker claiming that the change would make an international climate deal “nigh-on impossible to negotiate”.

The change in system would swing the UK’s emission cuts of 28% between 1990 and 2009 to an increase of 20% between 1990 and 2008.

Former UNFCCC chief Michael Zammit Cutajar described the US-China dynamic as “the G2″ of climate negotiations.

Speaking last week at an event organised by RTCC, Cutajar said the US position on climate change had “morphed into a sub-plot of the position US-China position on the geopolitical stage”.

Contact the author of this story @rtcc_john or jp@rtcc.org

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