The right way to neutralize China’s unfair economic advantage on climate

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There’s a big push in Congress to eliminate any competitive edge handed to China as a result of domestic and international climate change policies. The best idea — short of jettisoning this ill-advised climate agenda altogether — is to undo China’s favorable status as a “developing nation” under the relevant United Nations treaties. This would be much preferable to trying to impose carbon taxes, which proponents claim would help to go after China by branding its goods as insufficiently climate friendly.

It’s strange but true — China, despite having grown into the world’s second largest economy and largest exporter, is still classified by the United Nations as a developing nation under several important environmental treaties. As a result, China gets relatively lenient treatment compared to the U.S. and other developed nation signatories. This includes the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (known simply as the Montreal Protocol), and the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The initial classification as a developing nation made sense given China’s economy back then, but the U.N. has never updated it.

The advantages of developing-nation status are substantial. For example, the Montreal Protocol targeted a class of refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the grounds that they deplete the earth’s ozone layer, but China and other developing nations were granted an additional 10 years to comply. Also, these nations have been and continue to be eligible for financial assistance from a U.N. multilateral fund paid for by wealthy nations, to which the U.S. is the single largest contributor.

At a 2016 Montreal Protocol meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, the treaty was expanded to include many of the chemical substitutes for CFCs on the grounds that they are greenhouse gases. Known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, it gives China and other designated developing nations an extra 10 years beyond the timelines imposed on developed nations.

These newly-restricted chemicals, called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), have many industrial uses; thus, China’s manufacturers will have the benefit of relying on them long after their American counterparts will have had to undergo a costly transition to new compounds. In addition, China is still eligible for U.N. funds to help developing nations comply, paid for in part by American taxpayers.

Read the full article on The Hill.