Headlines blared Tuesday that President Obama’s announcement of a rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants had convinced China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, to impose its own cap-and-trade system.
A huge victory for those hoping for an international climate agreement next year. The only problem is that China made no such commitment. The liberal media actually quoted a Chinese official who was voicing his opinion, and not speaking on behalf of the Chinese government.
“It’s not the case that the Chinese government has made any decision. I’m not a government official and I don’t represent the government,” said Professor Jiankun He, who is the director of the Low Carbon Economy Lab of Tsinghua Universtiy and the deputy director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change.
Jiankun He told this to Reuters after American media outlets jumped at earlier reports that quoted him saying China would cap carbon dioxide emissions in its next five-year plan.
“What I have said today was my personal opinion,” Jiankun He told the Reuters yesterday. “What I have said does not represent the view of the Chinese government or of any organisation.”
Regardless of the fact that Jiankun He was not laying out official Chinese policy, American media outlets ran with the story, spinning it as a triumph for Obama ahead of the United Nations’ next major climate conference next year.
USA Today ran with the headline “China follows USA with emissions pledge.” The UK Guardian reported “China to limit carbon emissions for first time, climate adviser claims.” And the liberal news site ThinkProgress said “One Day After U.S. Announces Emissions Target, China Says Carbon Cap Is On The Way.” ThinkProgress issued a correction to their article after Reuters said Jinkun He’s opinion was not that of the Chinese government.
New York Times climate blogger Andy Revkin noted the inconvenient truth behind the media’s false China hype yesterday.
“Having covered China’s stance on global warming since 1988, I’ve gotten attuned to the need to tread carefully when something is said that feels like a shift in the official position of this greenhouse gas giant,” Revkin wrote.
Even environmentalists fell for the hype, issuing statements to the media about how significant it was that China was planning on capping emissions linked to global warming.
“In the last 24 hours we’ve had two major announcements from China and the US which send a powerful signal to other world leaders ahead of crucial climate talks later this year,” Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian. “The Chinese government has already set out ambitious plans to cut the country’s reliance on coal – an additional cap on CO2 suggests the country’s leaders are serious about tackling their emission problem.”
After Obama climate plan for US, China announce cap on CO2 emissions in 2 years time. Momentum. http://t.co/m4urVkvNK1
— Doug Parr (@doug_parr) June 3, 2014
“What’s going on is that the Chinese government has publicly announced that they are in the process of drawing up new plans for the next five-year plan,” Melanie Hart, director of the China energy and climate policy program at the liberal Center for American Progress, told ThinkProgress. “These plans are macro-level guides for the economy, including energy and climate:”
The Obama administration hopes its efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will set an example for the rest of the world to follow, paving the way for an international climate agreement. The false reports of China’s emissions cap excited UN officials who will facilitate climate negotiations next year.
“I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action—action that can set the stage and put in place the pathways that can bend the global emissions curve down in order to keep world-wide temperature rise under 2 degrees C this century,” said UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.
But negotiations have broken down in the past because developing nations, like China and India, have been loathe to cut carbon dioxide emissions and hamper their booming economic growth.
There have also been major disagreements about the level of international wealth transfers that would need to occur to compensate poor countries that forgo development in the name of stopping global warming.
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