Window Dressing
China Reaping Strategic Benefits from “Green” Policies

In a sign that China’s new “green” policies are having some effect, the country’s coal imports dropped a massive 42 percent in the first quarter of this year. The Guardian reports:

Imports by the world’s biggest coal consumer reached 49.07m tonnes in the first quarter, a fall of 42% on the same period a year ago according to data from the Chinese customs office. Trade figures for March showed that imports were down overall by 12.3% while exports badly missed expectations, falling 15% from a year earlier.

Some of this can be laid at the feet of sluggish economic growth which of course won’t be welcome in Beijing, but the fact that China is reducing its dependence on foreign sources of energy will be seen as a positive step. Much of China’s coal is shipped in, too, which in Beijing’s eyes makes it dependent on the U.S. ships that patrol Asia’s trade routes. By signing a massive over-land gas deal with Russia, China is not only securing an energy source with less harmful pollutants, but one that in its eyes comes with fewer vulnerabilities. In that respect, reducing coal consumption is a matter of national (and energy) security.

But another story illustrates the other driving force behind China’s much-publicized move to tamp down on pollution. Over the weekend hundreds of protestors took to the streets to protest the expansion of a coal plant in southern China. Reuters reports:

Residents had complained of smog in Heyuan city since the power plant there began operations in 2008, and officials recently approved a second phase for the project, the official Xinhua news agency reported. […]

Xinhua did not give other details about the incident, but photos circulating on Chinese social media, which could not be verified by Reuters, showed hundreds of people marching in the street, some holding banners denouncing the project as damaging to health and blue skies.

Beijing cleverly framed policies meant to gird its energy security and preempt social unrest as somehow guided by a deep concern for the health of the planet, and in doing so engendered no small amount of goodwill last November when it, alongside the U.S., jointly announced emissions reductions targets. Greens shouldn’t forget the real reasons driving these decisions lest they set themselves up for further disappointment.

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