David linked to the Reuters report about China’s refusal to accept binding emissions caps in any international agreement. On the topic of China and climate change, last week I got some face time with the head of the World Bank’s energy unit in Beijing, Dr. Zhao. Too much for one blog post, but here are some highlights:

According to his research, the World Bank’s go-to guy on these matters believes: “It will be difficult or even impossible for China to reduce CO2 emissions in absolute terms.” Depressing conclusion. As he saw it, “The question now is, what can be down to reduce China’s growth rate [of CO2 emissions]?”

While refusing to sign international agreements on carbon caps, Beijing has issued some fairly ambitious goals of its own. One is to have 15 percent of energy come from renewable sources by 2020. Of course, whether this target is based in reality is another question. As Dr. Zhao told me, “In most other countries, you do the analysis first, then set goals. In China, you set the goal first, then you do the research and set the policy to try to achieve it.” Translation: the temptation to fudge numbers to reach preordained conclusions is dangerously high.

It is, after all, impossible to talk about China’s capacity to either reduce or control CO2 emissions without also sizing up the reality of Chinese politics. On the one hand, a one-party system allows the government to reach decisions more quickly, on all matters. On the other hand, the lack of independent oversight and endemic corruption makes it more difficult for Beijing to actually implement its writ across far-flung provinces.

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Finally, a point that gets back to David’s original inference about our responsibility at home. Given the structure of America and China’s economies, and the respective levels of technological sophistication, Dr. Zhao thought that, “It’s actually a lot easier to reduce CO2 emissions in America than in China.” Things like, you know, raising fuel efficiency standards and creating a consumer market for electric cars.

Not that this last point excuses either party, but just sayin’.