China’s Green Progress Leaves US Red-Faced

The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts contrasts the momentum of Chinese and American emissions trading schemes, and suggests that the United States’ lack of leadership could be a strategic error:

China is both desperate and ambitious enough to try almost anything. The widely trailed move towards a cap-and-trade system will provide an extra tool for China to achieve its Copenhagen commitment to reduce carbon emissions relative to economic growth by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020 ….

Existing schemes are clearly flawed. But by opting out, the US is losing its ability to influence reform, just as China begins to establish what could become a rival trading system. Beijing has positioned itself cleverly.

In the years ahead, its influence will grow in both renewable technology and climate finance. This has prompted the analyst Søren Lütken to talk of an emerging Grand Chinese Climate Scheme.

It is far from certain that this will be successful. Corruption, imprecision and inexperience are major hurdles that China has yet to overcome in establishing a cap-and-trade scheme. Lobby groups could water down plans that will cost industry money. As in the US, the economy will remain dependent on fossil fuels for many decades.

Yet compared to the US, China seems to have a clearer sense of direction, greater flexibility and a willingness to move.