Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Challenging China's Climate Change Babies

Excuses, inaction only add to global warming burden

Opinion - October 02, 2007 Jakarta Post

Jonathan Lassa

China recently claimed its "one-child policy", forcibly imposed three decades ago, had prevented 300 million births (a figure equal to the population of the United States), and consequently had helped to fight global warming.

In other words, China claimed to have preempted the concept of "Climate Change babies" long before the global consensus on climate change ever existed.

Q: Should the China's one-child policy be credited as "a self-enforced" policy to tackle climate change at a domestic level? Does the argument help promote China's image as a great nation, set to become the next global super power?

A: Unfortunately, no.

Climate change policy analysts may have reason to doubt China's claims, not only because of the dubious relationship between China's climate change and population growth policies, but because China's administration has been suspected of steering toward "business as usual" policies, taking advantage of low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita, while ignoring the fact that as a country, China remains the second largest GHG emitter in the world.

If there has ever been a case to be pessimistic about tackling climate change, we can hope this is its antithesis.

Five years ago, a study of the Kyoto Protocol predicted that even if "it succeeds in reducing GHG emission of the Annex 1 countries, ... it may increase the emissions of other non-annex 1 countries," such as China, India and the rest of developing world -- and evidently this has occurred (see Barret 2003: 383).

Don't be misled; the treaty has been far from successful given the fact that (apart from "stubborn" states such as the U.S. and Australia that continue to undermine its importance) the GHG emission reductions in Annex 1 countries have been slow, while China, Indonesia, India and Brazil have become the biggest polluters outside the U.S. and Russia.

It may not be fair or even helpful to liken the Kyoto Treaty to a giant sinking ship, (bigger than the Titanic) with passengers from 175 countries, nobly intending to prevent the planet from catastrophe.

Meanwhile there are huge expectations for the next COP Meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Bali in December. As host country, Indonesia has announced 7 items on its agenda: adaptation, mitigation, clean development mechanisms (CDM), financial mechanisms, technology and capacity building, reduced deforestation and post-Kyoto protocol mechanisms.

The old scenario of the Indonesian government domestic agenda prioritization vs. clear mitigation and adaptation measures may yet appear. In a World Bank sponsored study it was shown that 85 percent of Indonesia's CO2 emission comes from forestry, followed by energy consumption (9 percent), agriculture (4.6 percent) and waste pollution (1.4 percent). (PEACE 2007:2 Indonesia and Climate Change: Current Status and Policies).

Recent news saw the Australian government, once again playing "good neighbor", pledge A$100 million, adding to Uncle Sam's US$20 million pledge toward reforestation. This money could potentially serve as a means for Indonesia to deal with forest conservation and better peatland management.

Provided it can overcome moral hazards i.e. corruption, the "reforestation aid", can definitely "contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions" (The Jakarta Post Sept. 12, 2007).

Despite growing concerns over the impact of city populations predicted to outgrow rural populations next year, Indonesia's population growth has been 1.1 percent annually for the last five years, so the birth rate is obviously not the main concern for Indonesia at present.

The other good news is, for Indonesia, unlike India and China, "climate change babies" should not be the issue at the moment. However, the question remains; "are there any 'climate change babies'?"

Regardless of naive climate change excuses, or perhaps the "moral hazard" of China's Kyoto Protocol stance, present lack of clear clean energy policy (as it currently enjoys a "developing nation" status), and attempts to retroactively credit its one-child policy to its climate change mitigation agenda, China is not 100 percent wrong in pointing out that birth control is one of several means to tackle climate change. This concept has been discussed in the Malthusian crisis narratives which suggest that population plays a significant role in environmental management on a planetary scale.

Unlike Hindus, Judeo-Christians and Moslems share a belief that humans have not preexisted. In population studies, I would argue, however, future generations do in fact preexist, and thus, future earth polluters also preexist. A logical conclusion would be that birth control in one way or another will help humans achieve a sustainable future.

Please also bear in mind that no rights of unborn children would be violated if good global population governance is put in place.

Conversely the rights of future generations are clearly under threat when giant nations such as the U.S., China, India and economic world leaders such as Australia, do not share the same willingness to cooperate as other developed nations providing good leadership in tackling climate change for the rest of the developing and underdeveloped world.

Despite Australian and U.S. efforts in self-enforced climate change mitigation, without their multilateral cooperation, their persistent enjoyment of a unilateral approach will deny future generations the right to enjoy a sustainable future.

Similarly, China's nonsense "climate change babies" excuses in the discourse of global climate change management, will lead to the same miserable future that the U.S. and Australia are blindly wandering towards.

The writer is a PhD candidate in disaster governance at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn. He can be reached at or


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