"Up to now, whether it is the proposals in the U.S. climate bill or the comments by French President Sarkozy, the carbon tariffs are just a kind of deterrent used by developed countries to put pressure on developing countries, breaking the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' and making them commit to their own emission cuts," Zhang told the conference.
He said retaliation would also be inevitable.
"The United States per capita emission rate is four times as big as China's. Does that mean we can impose 400 percent tax rates on all imported American goods? If so, the result is a global trade war that is good for no one and no use at all in the fight against climate change."
Also, "Frankly, if tariffs are being implemented unilaterally, they cannot be objective and cannot be non-discriminatory." Of course, if the U.S. goes down this road it won't only be China that places tariffs on U.S. goods. Considering that the U.S. is by far the world's largest per capita emitter, it would be really stupid for Obama to encourage a new norm of carbon tariffs.
This argument isn't entirely different from the standard response from developing countries when pressed to adopt strict carbon limits by developed countries: "You already got rich by polluting, and now it's our turn. Why should we have to pay to clean up your mess?" I've gotta say, it's a pretty strong argument, and it's not clear to me that developing countries will be willing to abandon it any time soon. And if developing countries aren't on board, it will difficult to get public support for self-immiserating policies in developed democracies.
The politics of climate change are just really, really bad.