The President has claimed that his new Clean Power Plan shows the leadership and commitment to address climate change that will encourage other countries, namely China, to take serious action. While that is a possibility, it chances more likely falls into the slim and none category.
First, his plan faces a large number of hurdles before it can be implemented. And, if the republicans take control of the Senate, it is a virtual certainty that they will use the Congressional Review Act to pass a resolution of disapproval which will also be passed by the House. The President can be counted on to veto it but there are other means for keeping it from taking effect.
Second, China has already shown a recognition that it has to take action on air pollution to continue to encourage foreign investment and foreign nationals to work there. Now, it can claim that because of US action it will address climate change but for a price. The President has not shown great skill in negotiating, so it is likely that he will get snookered by the Chinese who will do no more than what is in their economic self-interest and will demand to be rewarded for doing that. Such is the world of illusions.
Anyone who knows anything about China and its history knows that they think very long term and can’t be rushed into making a decision. Since the time of Kyoto, China has made it clear that in terms of climate treaties, they will always be a developing country and won’t take on climate obligations unless paid to do so. And, as more Chinese citizens move from undeveloped rural areas, the government must maintain robust economic growth and a rising standard of living.
Perhaps the best evidence that China is not going to follow the US folly is an observation by Professor Gordon Hughes from Edinburg University who studied China for the World Bank. He said that since China has a vast program for building new coal fired power plants, it is inconceivable that it would reverse course.
In the end, the President’s plan will not withstand close scrutiny and will fail to motivate emerging economies to embrace policies that will damage their economies.