Does France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy read China Law & Policy? Sure looks that way. In an effort to promote carbon caps domestically, Sarkozy also called for any international climate change agreement to include a carbon tax on imports into Europe from countries that do not impose carbon emission caps.
In response, many economists argued that Sarkozy’s push for a carbon tax on imports could lead to alienating China from agreeing to any sort of emission caps in Copenhagen. This is the same criticism lodged against the tariff provisions in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Climate Change Bill.
There is a real risk that these economists are right; China will begin to feel bullied and, for its domestic audience’s consumption, walk away from an international climate change agreement. Although the Chinese government enjoys one-party rule in an authoritarian state, it is still susceptible to domestic public opinion, especially given the fact that nationalism runs very high.
But at least our European allies realize that any international agreement is a give and take; there are carrots and sticks. On the same day that Sarkozy called for carbon tariffs, the European Union’s (E.U.) environment chief, Stavros Dimas, announced that the European Commission would pledge $3 billion per year to developing countries, including China, to assist with capping emissions and developing clean technologies.
A key issue for China in its lead up to Copenhagen has been financial and technological assistance from developed countries in implementing carbon emission caps or clean technology. China has repeatedly stated that they will not be able to meet the requirements of an international treaty unless there is assistance from developed countries.
The E.U.’s pledge is the carrot in this situation. It is agreeing to a term that China has said is necessary for it to consent to any international climate change treaty. So even in light of Sarkozy’s call for carbon tariffs, the Chinese government can turn to its people and show that it was not bullied. Instead, China received the one element that it considered indispensible.
The U.S. unfortunately has only been providing sticks. There is evidence that the tariff provisions provide some leverage against a country like China, but without providing some sort of bargaining chip, China will likely not respond positively to the U.S.’ hard-line tariff provisions. Instead, the U.S. should learn for the E.U. and look to see where it can find common ground with China. Without this common ground, it starts to look a lot like bullying.