By: Rep. John Curtis & Rich Powell
It is impossible to combat global climate change and mitigate its negative impacts on the world, without confronting the exponentially growing carbon dioxide emissions problem stemming from China.
American innovation and leadership have resulted in massive reductions in U.S. emissions. In fact, the United States cut its emissions more than the next dozen carbon-reducing countries combined between 2005 and 2017. In contrast, China’s emissions have quadrupled since 1990. In fact, for every ton of carbon dioxide reduced by the U.S., China’s emissions increased by over four tons. As a result, by 2030, China is expected to produce more than 30% of global emissions.
Carbon dioxide isn’t toxic — we breathe it in and out all the time. The problem is when there is too much of it in the air. And the energy sector happens to be one of the largest sources of global emissions. We are strong believers that it is too much carbon dioxide in the air that is the problem. We are also strong believers that there is a role for fossil fuels to be used in a clean way, including coal, especially when produced with more clean technology from the U.S. For example, while the U.S. is working to improve and develop carbon capture and storage technology for both our coal and gas fleets, China’s state energy planners are easing coal power plant restrictions. Last year, they brought dozens of new unmitigated coal power plants online, roughly 20% of the size of the entire U.S. coal fleet.
Unfortunately, China prioritizes quantity over quality and is on a mission to create reliance on its resources with the environment as its victim. For example, due to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (a $1 trillion transportation and energy infrastructure construction project spanning the globe), 1,600 coal plants are scheduled to be built by Chinese firms in more than 62 countries. These coal projects are planned for populations much larger than their respective current populations, and will have a lifespan of 40 years on average, creating a long-term dependence on Chinese coal supplies around the world. Because of this, these projects have come under criticism and scrutiny, and one has even been blocked by a court in Kenya due to environmental concerns.
So, what can the U.S. do to counter China’s environmental record and its growing global energy influence? We have some substantive ideas that can help put U.S. ahead of China while making us better stewards of our planet.
Most importantly, the U.S. should strengthen our competitive position in global energy markets and promote the development of more U.S. clean energy technologies (including nuclear and carbon capture) to reduce global emissions and develop economic opportunities. From extraction to generation, America has a proven track record of cleaner energy development, and we should work with countries abroad to ensure they also can produce the most environmentally friendly and affordable energy possible.
Additionally, the U.S. should use existing agencies, such as the Development Finance Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development to help American companies compete globally. Both of these institutions finance the development of projects in developing countries and bring along the anti-corruption and environmental standards that the Belt and Road Initiative lacks. We support the Exporting Clean Energy Act, which equips the Export-Import Bank to fund energy projects when an international strategic competitor, such as China, is bidding for a contract but the U.S. can provide a more environmentally friendly option.
The climate doesn’t care about political boundaries — a molecule of carbon dioxide in Shanghai is the same as one in Salt Lake City. The world must work together, and the U.S. should lead. From our premier research institutions to our world-class private sector innovators, the U.S. has always been the global leader in clean energy innovation, and we should continue to lead internationally to protect our environment.
John Curtis represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the China Task Force. Rich Powell is executive director of ClearPath, a conservative clean energy innovation organization.