Under President Donald Trump, the United States has seen an impressive run of climate change denial. The rollback of signature climate and environmental initiatives, including Trump’s abrogation of the Paris Climate accord, unsettles those who think scientific and economic consensus should guide policy. Many Americans take a clean environment for granted, ignoring its origins in sound science and responsive policy.
At the same time, China is taking a page from the US playbook – our research shows that China is making independently verifiable progress in reducing sulfur dioxide from coal power plants – and this is good news for the world. Meanwhile, the US has signaled its indifference and even disdain for global environmental progress. How much should we worry?
We focus on recent trends in environmental policy by the two biggest national players: the US and China. Here, the US and China are moving in opposite directions. We argue China’s improved policies are real and, moreover, more newsworthy and significant than the US retrenchment insofar as global emissions are concerned.
China is by far the world leader in greenhouse gas emissions and has been for over a decade. Already in 2015, the US emitted less than half as much CO2 as China emitted. China also suffers from severe local pollution, while progressive policies (begun under President Richard Nixon) have held US companies to high standards. Therefore, the most pressing national venue for enlightened global environmental policy is no longer the US.
Looking forward, China is clearly ground zero for the course of global emissions and climate change, not the US. The world would arguably be in more dire straits if Scott Pruit had Li Ganjie’s job heading China’s Ministry of Ecology and the Environment. This is something for which scientists and our children might be thankful.
China has been adopting increasingly progressive environmental policies. In 2014, China imposed stringent standards on the concentrations of sulfur dioxide. The Washington Post recently reported that China is re-foresting land the size of Ireland. Perhaps most ambitiously, China is implementing a national carbon exchange of the type favored by economists and that former US President Barack Obama was unable to get through Congress.
Read the full post at ejinsight.
Valerie J. Karplus is an Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Shuang Zhang, NYU Shanghai and University of Colorado Boulder
Douglas Almond, Columbia University