With meetings on an international climate-change deal in Copenhagen just around the corner, it’s time to get real about carbon emissions.
While it was emissions from the old carbon reprobates like North America and Europe that took us from 280 to 390 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere, it will be the smokestacks of China and India that threaten to drive us to an environmental tipping point.
China already has more coal plants than the US, UK and Japan combined, and over the next twenty years that country and India will account for almost eighty per cent of the expected doubling in global coal consumption.
If these guys aren’t playing by the same carbon rules that we are, it’s game over.
But to the ears of the energy-hungry Chinese and Indian economies, carbon rules sound a lot more like eco-imperialism than environmental sustainability. With per capita energy consumption at a tenth of Western levels, those countries aren’t about to make any voluntary concessions to the environment, and we can’t expect them to.
But what we can do is ensure that when they export products to our markets, they have to play by the same carbon rules that we do.
Otherwise, we can’t expect our own manufacturers and resource producers to pay a double premium to do the right thing: once by writing a check to cover their own emissions, and then a second time by giving up competitiveness to trade rivals that under price them by doing the wrong thing. That’s not environmentalism—just national economic suicide.
A carbon tariff is an indispensable component of any economically viable carbon policy that Western economies must ultimately adopt.
China and India can build all the coal plants they want, but when their manufacturing plants use dirty power to produce goods that are then exported to our market, the emissions embodied in those goods must be taxed at the same rate our domestic producers would pay for their own carbon emissions.
Not only would a leveled playing field ensure popular voter support for putting a price on carbon emission prices in our economy, but it would also start collaring runaway emissions growth in places that really count in the global picture. (Emissions from China’s export sector, for example, comprise a third of that country’s world-leading emissions.)
We don’t need another Kyoto-type protocol in Copenhagen. What we need is to put a price on our own carbon emissions and a carbon tariff on everyone else’s.
I’m Jeff Rubin, and I believe your world is about to get a whole lot smaller.