China’s Paradox: Economic Stimulation vs. Climate Catastrophe Aversion

Environmental inspectors in northern China have found that seventy percent of the businesses they examined failed to meet environmental standards for controlling air pollution. (Photo by Ella Ivanescu)

by Rachel Chiang
Staff Writer

This is a familiar story: China is to blame for climate change, with twenty-seven percent of global greenhouse gases emanating from within its borders. Operating under the desire to generate capital, the “authoritarian” Chinese state condones crippling levels of pollution, to the point at which face masks are daily necessities embraced by residents of Beijing. Any efforts to be environmentally conscious in the United States are futile since China will continue the reckless expansion of its carbon footprint.

China faces a daunting challenge: shifting away from their status as the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions towards more climate-friendly policies. Having undergone rigorous reforms over the last thirty years, China has become, and is still advancing as, one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. In face of this rapid growth, however, China must now consider policies to align its trajectory of economic growth with efforts to be environmentally sustainable, and placate inflaming concerns about climate change. 

It is no secret that citizens of some Chinese provinces reside under black skies, hazy horizons, and breathe in sooty air. Air pollution has become so problematic that some operations of solar panels have been hindered. Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have discovered that premature deaths and lost food production as a result of air pollution is costing China 267 billion yuan (US$38 billion) each year. Fortunately running counter to the “airpocalypse,” the Chinese government, despite not being held by any international treaty, has initiated measures to alleviate environmental crises. Contrary to popular belief, China leads the globe in clean energy investment which, when taken as a percentage of GDP, is ten times that of the United States. Waging a “War on Pollution” in 2013 , the CCP has henceforth given environmental sustainability the attention it deserves, carrying almost equal importance as other traditional Chinese policies, such as alleviating poverty. China also took the lead in green financing– according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China is accountable for 40 per cent of global growth in renewable resources and has already exceeded its 2020 photovoltaic energy goal (the CCP’s 2020 photovoltaic goal is 105GW, which was surpassed in 2017). It is currently the world’s largest solar market with solar finance last year equaling that of the whole of Europe at $23.5 billion. Jonas Nahm, an energy expert at Johns Hopkins University, states that China’s clean energy supply chain is indispensable in the world’s efforts to meet the climate targets by 2030, and to curb the acceleration of the climate catastrophe. 

Masks are the norm for Chinese residents. (Photo by Arran Smith)

Amid all this, however, China faces two dilemmas. For Chinese political elites, economic growth is the only viable route towards amerioliating the quality of lives, increasing employment rate, and ending poverty. Unfortunately, pursuing economic growth is often at odds with the flourishing climate action movement. On one hand, China, the largest global consumer of energy and greenhouse gas emitter, staunchly refuses to commit to any binding international treaty for emission reduction. On the other hand, the country invests heavily in alternative energy and has made great strides in energy transition. While environmental depredations pose a serious threat to China’s economic growth, costing the country roughly three to ten percent of its gross national income ($227 billion), according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, the polluting coal industry in China stimulates the most economic growth. The principle challenge for the future development of the coal industry is how to deal with carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Options such as a carbon tax, clean coal power plants, and increasing the price of fossil-fuel energy are considered to allow greenhouse gas emission reduction technologies to become economically viable and reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. 

The second paradox in China’s climate diplomacy and politics is the struggle to balance state interest and international role. As anthropogenic activities continue to accelerate the occurrence of extreme climatic events, whether or not China can continue adhering to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is a gray area. On one hand, if China remains unwavering in its reluctance to commit to international treaties and obligations to tackle climate change, it will be recognized as the “culprit of global warming,” thus risking the ruination of China’s reputation as a “responsible power,” and threatening China’s stance as an indispensable leading authority in international affairs. On the other hand, if China caves in to international pressure and prioritizes the environment over the economy, its rise to power may be thwarted as a result of economic stagnation that they believe would follow. International pressures may thus be imposed on China in the form of sanctions. It will be interesting to observe how China maneuvers this growth dilemma. 

China must decide whether to prioritize economic growth or developing more comprehensive environmental policies in the coming years (Photo by Markus Spiske).

Combating climate change must be a global effort and China’s engagement in climate diplomacy in this battle is critical. An EU delegate at the COP twenty-five meetings in Madrid observes, “If we get China, the rest of Asia will follow.” If nations do not cohesively advance towards  a climate change mitigation trajectory, the 2030 climate target will likely not be met in time. China’s direction of development will be crucial for global climate change in the next two decades. The strategies and role in international negotiations will be shaping the global response to climate change ever more profoundly. With its vast size, economic output and capacity to develop new models and technologies, China’s efforts will, by far, have the most profound impact on the global initiative to prevent a climate catastrophe.

UBI: The Global Antipoverty Experiment

by Tenzin Chomphel
Editor in Chief

The back and forth of the best way to resolve extreme poverty, wealth inequality, and just taxation, may often appear endless to most. While global poverty is lowering at a rate of roughly sixty-eight million people per year, that still leaves an unacceptably high level of poverty around the world. Domestically, the United States experiences an estimated thirty-eight million still in poverty, and inequality has additionally been on the rise, with the bottom ninety percent of households accounting for less than a quarter of the total wealth.

Continue reading “UBI: The Global Antipoverty Experiment”

Bolivia In Crisis: The Legacy of Evo Morales

by Marc Camanag
Staff Writer

Although there is little consensus on whether Bolivia’s recent shift in leadership constitutes a coup, there is a power struggle plaguing the nation. Amidst widespread protests, it is clear that the resignation of former president Evo Morales carried very real consequences for the Latin American nation and its people. But to what extent? The fall of Morales — the country’s first indigenous president — after nearly fourteen years in office sparked violent protests between his native loyalists and defected police forces. While mostly rooted in deep-seated fears of regression, strong opposing ideologies in Bolivia date back to earlier times involving oppressive post-colonial structures

The current interim president and successor, Jeanine Áñez, is a senator of European descent with a problematic history of anti-indigenous tweets. And since Morales’ resignation, Áñez has only served to further aggravate this ethnic tension. All things considered, Morales’ legacy may be the only tangible piece in the complex puzzle of Bolivia’s future. 

Morales’ ascension to power in 2006 was strongly regarded as a victory for indigenous Bolivians, who have long been subjected to hegemonic rule under a small elite of European descent. For many, Morales was a much-needed break from the tradition of the Spanish colonial era that had long divided the population. Under his administration, the stark social divisions of the past were completely disrupted by a rhetoric of populism and racial distinction. Morales’ Bolivia saw a growing number of indigenous representatives within the government, along with a revival of indigenous culture and the establishment of the Wiphala as an official flag. Despite criticism that his discourse was polarizing and sparked disunity, it is apparent that Morales had a major hand in uplifting the long-marginalized indigenous people of his nation.

Economically, the impoverished Bolivia thrived under his presidency, with two million people being lifted out of poverty through the redistribution of natural gas assets and maintenance of a balanced national budget. For a country that has long suffered from instability and poverty, Evo Morales was a beacon of hope — and then things started to change.

Eventually, Morales’ desire to protract his rule manifested in increasingly concerning behaviors. As more and more of his opponents were prosecuted and institutions become packed with pro-Morales figures, Bolivians began to search for a way out. Their victory in a referendum that enacted term limits was short-lived; soon after, the nation’s Constitutional Court ruled that such an imposition would violate Morales’ human rights. Years of dissatisfaction with the president culminated in this year’s presidential election, during which results were halted for an entire day prior to the announcement that Morales’ lead margin was enough to avoid a runoff. Amid mass accusations of fraud by the incumbent president, the Organization of American States confirmed the presence of irregularities and urged for a new election. This revelation only further incensed Bolivians, who took to the streets in late October to protest against Morales. 

These demonstrations proved to be the conditions for Morales’ fall, but the death blow came when police commandos in Cochabamba sided with protestors against the president’s re-election. The initially localized mutiny triggered a nationwide defection of security forces — an action that foreshadowed Morales’ demise. Now in the streets themselves, police officers across the nation voiced their disdain for Morales, burning the Wiphala flag and tearing the symbol from their uniforms. After weeks of protest, the military requested that Morales resign from the presidency to restore peace in the country. The demand — coup d’état or not — was successful, and the embattled Morales left Bolivia for Mexico soon after. 

Into today, the ex-president’s retreat has not become the solution that the military expected it to be. As Morales’ opponents scaled back from the streets, they were subsequently replaced by his supporters, who fear the loss of political gains made for indigenous communities. Jeanine Áñez — the self-proclaimed interim president — has done little to pacify this new unrest, seemingly condoning the police’s escalating violence against indigenous defenders of Morales and ignoring the rising death toll of these protests. Even with the promise of new presidential elections within ninety days, the opposition senator has faced incredible condemnation, particularly for creating a caretaker cabinet without any indigenous members and having made derogatory tweets against indigenous people — including one that referred to Morales as a “poor Indian”. With the nation in such a fragile state, Áñez must work quickly — before the crisis escalates into a violent and unforgiving civil war

For now, Evo Morales will likely remain in Mexico, where he has been granted asylum. Despite his desire to return to Bolivia and finish his term, it may be too late to make amends. For many, Morales’ legacy is already set in stone. 

Featured image courtesy of Ruperto Miller