For China, development and social stability take precedence over environment
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For China, development and social stability take precedence over environment

Over the past week, there has been much hand-rubbing over the Copenhagen fiasco called COP15. For many in the west and the western media, the temptation to make China the bogeyman for COP15 is irresistible. China has all the makings of the perfect villain: it is authoritarian, it doesn’t have elections, and it mostly does what it wants without regard for others.

This begs the question: “If COP15 was so important, then why wasn’t China involved in the discussions which led to the agenda for this make or break meeting?” Since China is, and has been the leading carbon emitting country since 2006, shouldn’t the meeting coordinators have done more to make sure that China, especially the Chinese government, are involved in the decisions which led up to COP15?

The simple fact is that, for the most part, the meeting coordinators were so focused on driving their own agenda, they forgot how differently China looks at things. For the past 30 years, the Chinese government has been mainly focused on economic development. This necessarily means that carbon emissions will go up. For the Chinese government, economic development is important because it will bring social stability. That is, as long as the Chinese economy grows, the Chinese people will be relatively happy, and will not want a change in government. While China has a long history, it does not have a history of peaceful changes in government. 

Cutting China’s carbon emissions will necessarily mean a slowing down of the Chinese economy, even though the Chinese are investing heavily in solar, wind and other clean energy technologies. The energy demands of this expansive growth are such that a large portion of China’s energy demand can only be filled by that cheap and dirty carbon emitter, coal. The Chinese government knows full well that China will lead in terms of carbon emissions worldwide for the next 20 years, and will be widely blamed by environmentalists for the effects of climate change. 

This is a real global challenge, not just for China. 

But if environmentalists want there to be change, they must include China in all discussions, and not just expect it to sign on the dotted line. Copenhagen has shown us that if when push comes to shove, China won’t sign.