China-US conflict reveals central climate issue

Is the focus on economic growth the reason why most commentators have low expectations of the current climate change conference in Cancún? Credit: UNFCCC

Is the focus on economic growth the reason why most commentators have low expectations of the current climate change conference in Cancún? Credit: UNFCCC

The nightmare of a battle between arguably the world’s dominant powers – the US and China – has become reality. And although it’s a diplomatic and not a military war, lives are still at stake, because the battleground that they’re fighting over is the world’s climate. Both argue that the other’s refusal to limit CO2 emissions further is preventing meaningful worldwide emissions cuts at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, this week and next. To successfully tackle global warming, a solution to this conflict is vital.

Yet neither side wants to back down, because since the industrial revolution countries’ wealth and power and their CO2 emissions have been intimately related. This can be understood by the fact that the world’s richest countries emit the greatest amounts of greenhouse gases per person, while the poorest countries emit much less. According to the “Carbon Footprint of Nations” website, in 2001 the US emitted 28.6 tonnes per person while China emitted 3.1 tonnes per person. Read the rest of this entry »