At COP27, the most recent global climate conference, China stated it will not pay into a $100 billion climate fund for developing nations on the grounds that they too—though the world’s second-largest economy—are still a ‘developing’ nation.
No matter what the United States or its allies do to prevent climate change, China’s reluctance to curb emissions and its determination to remain labeled a ‘developing’ nation is a threat to all of us. The reason why spans the fascinating relationship between wealth, development, environmentalism, and the malicious nature of socialistic ideology.
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As mentioned before, China easily possesses the world’s second-largest economy. In the past 40 years, Chinese citizens have witnessed remarkable growth and a GDP that has doubled every eight years on average. Yet, by stubbornly branding China as a developing nation, meaning more lenient environmental commitments, the United Nations is giving China a free pass that they do not deserve.
China has far outpaced the world in nearly every recorded pollution metric and possesses some of the worst air and water quality, killing millions each year. The nation emits the greatest volume of deadly mercury, dumps the second-highest quantity of mismanaged plastic waste into the world’s oceans, and has once again revived emissions of the infamous ozone-destroying CFCs long since banned by the Montreal Protocol.
China became the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2006. Its CO2 emissions account for 30% of the global total and are more than double that of the next country, the United States. But while their emissions have increased by a colossal 80% in the past two decades, emissions in the United States have declined an admirable 15% over the same period.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sums up the perniciousness of China’s actions perfectly: “Too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on willful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people — and the world — deserve better.”
Though clearly wealthy, China has not followed the same pollution pattern of other affluent nations in the West, despite the interdependent relationship between wealth and environmentalism established by the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), developed in 1991 by economists Gene Grossman and Alan Krueger.
The EKC describes how the initial environmental quality of developing nations is poor as their economies depend on natural resources and dirty industrial outputs, but reaches a turning point during the latter phases of industrialization. At that time, the demand for a clean environment outweighs the benefits of industrial pollution, and their now wealthy populations can afford to be sustainable. In other words, environmental quality becomes a “luxury good.” In fact, shortening the EKC curve is the intended purpose of the COP27 climate fund.
But clearly, something deep within China has caused it to buck this trend: its socialist system.
To the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), all things must bend to its will—nature included. Under communist ideology, both individuals and environmental resources are merely a means to the ends of the collective state. While Xi Jinping speaks to the nation about environmental programs, the Chinese government continues to level mountains to build cities and demands that the natural human desire to bear children be suppressed for the good of the Party. Nor is this limited to just the CCP; all socialist nations have terrible environmental track records – a clear sign of the ideology’s disregard of the value of the individual.
The United States can best counter the CCP by disentangling its economy from dirty Chinese industry, returning millions of manufacturing jobs back home where they can be accomplished more sustainably. We should, as the American Conservation Coalition Climate Commitment states, unlock American resources to build a cleaner future instead of continuing to allow a dangerous Chinese green technology monopoly to be held against us. Harnessing our unique culture of competition and innovation, anathema to the communist nation, would allow American international environmental leadership to reach heights unseen.
Lastly, China must not be allowed to continue its climate farce. The United States must unify other nations against the decision to label China as ‘developing’ and resist further environmental concessions to the state, for no matter how much the United States reduces its emissions, no progress will be made if one nation is allowed to emit more than entire continents combined. That alone should be enough to spur us, and our leaders, to action.
Evan Patrohay is a graduate of Clemson University, a proud South Carolinian, and member of the American Conservation Coalition. During 2021-2022 he researched the effects of climate change on Arctic ecosystems in Tromsø, Norway under a Fulbright Scholarship.