As the world trains its attention on Copenhagen for the United Nations climate change summit, much is being made in the mainstream media about the bold pledges global leaders supposedly are making to combat rampant warming. Not surprisingly, however, the press is bungling the climate change story.

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The Los Angeles Times trumpeted that China—the planet’s leading emitter of greenhouse gas emissions—had pledged to cut those emissions an astonishing 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Washington Post did much the same, with a front-page story headlined: “China Sets Target For Emissions Cuts.” India, meanwhile, was reported by numerous outlets to have made a similar pledge to cut its rapidly rising greenhouse gas output.

And President Obama garnered front page headlines all over the world with an announcement setting a U.S. emissions reduction target of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020.

There’s a big problem with this emerging storyline of a unified international community willing to make the hard choices and sacrifices necessary to save the planet: It’s patently untrue. Despite the evident desire of the mainstream media and the Obama administration to advance the idea that global climate change regulation is inevitable, the facts tell otherwise.

China, for instance, did not pledge to cut its carbon emissions, but rather its carbon intensity. Those are two very different things. Carbon intensity is the measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP. China is industrializing and modernizing its economy at breakneck speed. As it grows richer and its economy grows more efficient, China’s carbon intensity naturally will decline.

As for China’s presently soaring carbon emissions, those will continue to rise in absolute terms even as carbon intensity drops. China is averaging building one new coal plant every week or so to fuel its economic expansion, and the mandarins in Beijing have made clear they plan to continue along that path for years to come.

Consider these Energy Information Administration (EIA) numbers: In 2006, China’s electric generation amounted to 2,773 billion kilowatt hours, of which 79 percent came from coal. In 2030, the Middle Kingdom’s electric generation is estimated to more than triple, to 8,547 billion KWh.


Max Schulz

Max Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.