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Beware of China’s Phony Climate Ambition

Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped the climate conference in Glasgow while several members of Congress attended. He wasn’t missed. In fact, his absence made it easier for conservatives in America and around the world to expose the charade of China’s phony promises to address climate change.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is lashing out at the United States, our allies and fundamental free-market principles. You won’t find a declaration of war in their latest Five-Year Plan, though it comes close with their plans to dominate manufacturing and mining of the critical minerals that are so vital to modern life. Their focus on their increasingly “ambitious” climate change pledges is a ploy to give them cover for their authoritarian behavior.

>>>Appeasing China is The Wrong Way to Fight Climate Change

In September of 2020, amid a pandemic, Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, announced at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 that China will be carbon neutral before 2060. Then, just one month later, Xi upped the ante on their voluntary Nationally Determined Contribution targets, or NDCs, setting even more ambitious targets.

Sure, China’s leaders sometimes talk a good game. China is smart enough and skilled enough as a communicator to co-opt the word “prosperity” from free market conservatives, though they use the term very differently. “Prosperity” is for the party, not for people.  

At the same time, China is leading the world in building new coal-fired power plants, which unequivocally emit more greenhouse gases than any other form of energy. According to the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), China is planning to build 43 new coal-fired power plants and 18 blast furnaces, which are important for steel and glass manufacturing. Forty-three new coal power plants. Let that sink in for a moment, while you recall their much-lauded climate “ambition.”

President Xi and the CCP are certainly not lacking in ambition. But their true ambition is to promote their communist principles around the world by using economic leverage whenever and wherever they can, including on climate change policy.

President Xi “is trying to roll back China’s decades-long evolution toward Western-style capitalism and put the country on a different part entirely,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “In essence, this suggests that he aims to rewrite the rules of business.” NBC reported that, “as part of the Communist Party’s sweeping vision for the future, the government has enforced a regulatory crackdown against Chinese tech giants that sent Western financial markets into a spin.” Again, these are policies that may be good for Chinese Communist party leaders but are not going to be good for the Chinese people or the planet’s environment.

>>>On Climate, the U.S. Should be Tough on China

As C3 Solutions explained in a paper this year, “Free Economies are Clean Economies.” Economic freedom – limited government, open markets, regulatory efficiency, the rule of law – are bedrock principles that deliver a cleaner environment, enabling prosperity for both people and our planet.

Case in point: The United States has the largest economy on the planet, and we are doing our share to fight climate change. For example, in 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency inventory on greenhouse gas emissions reported that, “since 2005, national greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 10%, and power sector emissions have fallen by 27% — even as our economy grew by 25%.” That’s because American policymakers (mostly) allow the free market to operate. Thus, economic freedom encourages private companies to experiment and helps everyone. Private sector innovations and investment in new technologies produced smaller environmental footprints on land, improved air quality, and are the primary reason the U.S. is a global leader in carbon dioxide emissions reductions from the energy sector.

Contrast that with China, which is pumping out pollution and shows no indication it intends to change course. As the New York Times reported in 2017, “Environmental inspectors in northern China have found that nearly 14,000 companies, or 70 percent of the businesses they examined, failed to meet environmental standards for controlling air pollution.”

Furthermore, instead of moving toward a free market-oriented system, the Chinese are returning to their authoritarian roots.

China measures “Mostly Unfree” in The Heritage Foundation’s latest Index of Economic Freedom. It earns a measly score of 46.4 for government integrity, and the Chinese government has consistently allowed pollution to go unchecked. “Protection of property rights remains weak. All land in China is owned either by the state or by rural collectives,” the Index reports. “Corruption remains endemic at all levels of government, and anecdotal information suggests that the government’s crackdown on corruption is applied inconsistently and discretionarily.”

This is the opposite of the rule of law, and it is holding China back from making the environmental gains that it must as a major economy in the 21st Century.

The C3 report finds that: “The correct economic and policy environment cultivates a system that rewards innovation, efficiency and stewardship. A system rooted in economic freedom generates more wealth for individuals and societies, so they can invest in protecting the environment.”

It’s time we wake up to the war that President Xi and the CCP have declared on our free-market principles under their banner of climate ambition. The good news is that the United States and our allies don’t have to fight this war with soldiers, guns and missiles, but rather by further embracing and promoting economic freedom, which will be good for everyone’s prosperity, including the Chinese people, not to mention our planet.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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