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Obama: China and India carbon emissions could leave US “underwater”

US President tells Democrat fundraisers emerging economies hold key to addressing climate change

(Pic: Obama/Flickr)

(Pic: Obama/Flickr)

By Ed King

Barack Obama has warned that “we’ll be four feet underwater” if China and India end up consuming energy like the USA.

The US President’s remarks, made at a Democrat fundraiser in Seattle, reflect concerns that the world’s top emerging economies hold the key to preventing dangerous levels of climate change.

Scientists say that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar, warming temperatures around the world could lead to melting ice-caps at the north and south poles, resulting in sea levels rising 26-82cm by 2100.

Despite its relatively late industrialisation, China’s emission levels have rapidly caught up with the rest of the world. It’s now second in the all-time carbon pollution list behind the USA.

Fellow developing giants Brazil, Indonesia and India also make the top 10, which includes the UK, France and Germany. Last year the US and China signed a pact to cooperate on cutting harmful emissions from power plants and vehicles, but it is unlikely this will have any immediate effects.

The New Yorker’s David Remnick, who was given access to Obama in late 2013, reports the President is sympathetic to the desire of China and India to lift millions out of poverty, but keen to stress the urgency of climate action to his supporters.

The Chinese government is under severe pressure from its own citizens due to regular toxic smogs that blanket major cities as a result of power generation and exhaust fumes. Some reports from Beijing suggested authorities had erected a giant TV screen so residents starved of natural daylight could watch the sun rising and setting.

Rich country pollution

A UN science report due in March is likely to blame much of China and India’s emissions on Western nations ‘outsourcing’ carbon pollution. Levels of carbon dioxide grew twice as fast between 2000-2010 as they did in the previous thirty years.

According to the the Guardian the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says: “A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries.”

Per capita analysis also reveals a huge discrepancy between energy use in the USA and developing parts of the world. According to the World Bank, in 2011 the average US citizen consumed the equivalent of 7,032 kilogrammes of oil a year, compared to 2,029 per person in China.

This highlights the challenge for UN envoys working on plans for a global climate change set to be signed next year. Developing countries will want flexibility to maintain economic growth, while richer nations will not willingly cut their energy usage.

Washington heat

Domestically, the Obama Administration is currently stuck in a bitter row over its attempts to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. Republicans say it is a ‘war on coal’ aimed at breaking US industrial heartlands.

Last week Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell launched a new attempt to block the legislation in Congress. In another sign of the battle to come, House Republicans recently appointed David Schweikert, a high-profile climate sceptic from Arizona to the House Science Committee.

Green groups say the White House’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, which encourages investment in renewables, shale gas, oil and biofuels will lock the country into a carbon intensive system for decades.

A letter from leading NGOs said the policy “accelerates development of fuel sources that can negate the important progress you’ve already made on lowering U.S. carbon pollution, and it undermines U.S. credibility in the international community”.

They hope the President will announce new ambitious measures in next week’s State of the Union speech, where he will set out his priorities for 2014.

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  • Nigel Colhoun

    The greed of big-business is destroying the world.

    • Guenier

      Hang on – this story is about China and India. Their “greed” has lifted over 600 million people out of poverty in recent years.

      • Charles Beattie

        China is claiming to be communist, they are in terms of freedoms (like the internet). They opened markets and they allow are companies to use them for cheap labor.

        • jack_hoc

          No one stops USA to do the same.,,,Are you jealous or feeling pity?

    • Tom Olin

      Capitalism and free enterprise will be what will get us out of this mess.

  • Honeybee Blaze Frolics

    The waters are beautiful, so why do you pollute them?
    Do you want to die from thirst?
    Do you no longer want to swim with the dolphins or lay on the beach with the water?
    The sky is beautiful, so why do you pollute it?
    Do you want to die from the poison you breathe?
    Do you no longer want to soar with the eagle or run through the fields with the wind?
    The ground is beautiful, so why do you pollute it?
    Do you want to die from starvation?
    Do you no longer want to watch the Butterfly, Honeybee or walk through the woods with the sun?
    The Earth is beautiful, so why do you pollute it?
    Do you want to never again see the stars,moon, or sun?
    Do you want to never again feel the wind or water around you?
    “Do you want to never again watch the Butterfly, the Honeybee, soar with the Eagle, or swim with the Dolphin? books “Poetry by LBJ”, “Honey for All”
    The Earth is EVERYTHING, is our Mother, take care of her.

  • ………
  • Asian Conscience

    the current president is very good at noting the obvious. Look they
    -developing countries – are doing it because they can. There is no
    environmental cost involved. If Obama got the vision to be world class leader, the best
    thing to do is to put in global carbon trading scheme- inc US and let the market
    trade sort things out. It has been delayed for far too long. Everybody
    needs to just step up and thats the bottom line. US, Asia,
    EU…everyone. Carbon tax can be in turn used to repopulate depleted
    marine ecosystem, clean up pollution and replanting forests.

  • Charles

    The figure for sea level rise is what will happen without melting of ice caps. If Greenland and Antarctica melt, you can add another 300 feet! Scary.