China, U.S. at odds over cutting carbon

U.S. and Chinese flags hang at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: China and the United States are far and away the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. Beijing is first, the United States is a close second. As Stephen just told us, there are big disagreements between the two sides about how much carbon each country ought to cut. And who exactly is going to pay to make that happen. Washington suggests the booming Chinese economy doesn't need any financial help. China says, oh no, it needs the money. Marketplace's Scott Tong has the view from Shanghai.


SCOTT TONG: Young professionals grab lunch in downtown Shanghai. The restaurant's in a fancy high-rise, but HR manager Grace Lai says the idea that China is rich is a misconception.

GRACE Lai: China is economically big. But it's not economically strong. Say America and China both have cake. America cuts it into two pieces. And China cuts it into 10.

China has a billion mouths to feed. So no one here swallows the U.S. notion that China can pay for its own carbon-reduction costs.

And finance manager Huang Lan is unimpressed with the White House's stated goal of cutting emissions by 17 percent.

Huang LAN: The American or the European Union, they are like saying big words, but what they have committed, I didn't see there is any real stuff in there.

For its part, China has pledged to cut what it calls "carbon intensity" by 40 percent. That would still allow emissions to rise. But many here feel that even this proposal would hurt China's economy. Meanwhile in Copenhagen, the time left for a deal ticks away.

Andrew Hupert teaches negotiation at NYU's Shanghai campus. He says Chinese bargainers are happy to stretch these talks out.

ANDREW Hupert: The Chinese side still feels there's a potential for advantage because it's gaining information and it's waiting for the situation to change. Whereas the American feels he's paying an opportunity cost by not taking action right away.

Hupert thinks Beijing is asserting itself at Copenhagen, showing that it's no longer the weak victim of 19th-century colonial aggression.

Hupert: This is definitely something that is prevalent in the Chinese psyche. That they are coming back into their own, after having a humiliating situation imposed on them by outsiders.

For all Beijing's rhetoric, many think it wants a deal.

Alex Wang at the Natural Resources Defense Council says the fiery tone at Copenhagen is cooling on all sides.

ALEX Wang: People came out of their corners swinging. They established their positions firmly. What really matters is what happens this week. There's a lot of bargaining going on behind closed doors.

One Chinese government adviser says the West is pressuring China on many issues: from protectionism to human rights. The issue Beijing can deliver on most easily is climate change.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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