Stern: Meet China Half Way

Date 23rd May 2009

Stern beaming inStern beaming in

At last night's Indie Screenings Launch event, Lord Nicholas Stern, probably the world's foremost authority on the economics and politics of climate change, beamed in from the Hay festival via live web-link to take part in a Q&A with Franny and that other giant of UK climate change expertise, George Monbiot. During the friendly exchange of views between the two titans, Nick casually dropped into the conversation a proposal that would be a massive departure from UK Government climate policy.

Lord Stern explained that China has a very valid point when it complains that it should not have to take sole responsibility for the emissions generated in production of goods which are consumed in rich Western nations. At present, the UN gives responsiblity for emissions to the country in which they are produced, which might look sensible on the face of it, but ignores all of the complex dynamics of globalised trade. In Britain, we have only been able to claim that our emissions have been falling because we have been outsourcing our heavy industry to China for the last 15 years. So we still get the washing machines and X-boxes we seem to want, but China now owns all of the emissions associated with making them.

Clearly something's not right with that picture. Enter Stern, with his potentially game-saving proposal about who should own what emissions. You can listen to George's question and Nick's answer by downloading the mp3 file at the bottom of this page. Here's the transcript of the short exchange:

Referring to the deal at Copenhagen, George Monbiot asked, "Would it help to keep that deal if we were to account all emissions according to who consumes the final products? … Wouldn’t China and India be more inclined to come on board if we were to say, 'in fairness those emissions that we've offshored to - where you're exporting products to us - those should belong to us not to you.'"
Stern replied, "It is a point that the Chinese authorities make very clearly and strongly and I think that it’s a very sound one. My own view is that we need a combination of the two things. If you move to a different kind of division of labour where another country, in this case China, starts to make things that we might have made, and therefore has that production process in the emissions occurring there, rather than their own country, then we’re jointly responsible for that and both parties gain from the division of labour. That’s what trade is all about and that’s why trade can help development. So my own view is that we probably need something like an average of the two, or a combination of the two. But the logical point that China makes that there is a definite responsibility with the consumer and not just with the producer is a sound one."

And here's George explaining the significance of Stern's comments, in his own inimitable way:

Monbiot Stern China.mp3715.61 KB