World’s Worst Polluter China: ‘Right to Emit’ Is a ‘Basic Human Right’

China Pollution
AP Photo/Andy Wong

Chinese state media revived a quote by a Chinese Communist Party official on Sunday equating pollution with the “basic human right” of development, arguing that urging China to remedy its status as the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitter was a violation of the rights of Chinese citizens.

The Global Times, a Chinese government propaganda outlet, claimed that “netizens,” or users of Chinese social media whose opinions the government does not censor, were circulating a remark by Chinese lawmaker and scientist Ding Zhongli alleging that urging China to limit its polluting behavior was akin to denying the humanity of Chinese people.

“I want to ask: Are Chinese humans? That’s a fundamental question,” Ding once said, according to the Times. “I see the right to emit as a right to development, which is a basic human right.”

Ding’s argument, as the Times interpreted it, was that polluting the earth was a “basic human right” of Chinese people, as developed nations in the West had engaged in the use of fossil fuels and other environmentally compromising activities for over a century following the Industrial Revolution and not met with criticism.

The “netizens” were allegedly sharing the quote in response to criticism of Beijing by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg cited a recently published study by the Rhodium Group, a scientific organization, that found that China emits more greenhouse gases than every other developed nation combined. Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China styles itself a “developing country,” a label that Thunberg noted in her call to pressure Beijing to improve its environmental record.

“Yes, China is still categorized as a developing nation … But that’s of course no excuse for ruining future and present living conditions,” Thunberg condemned.

Ding Zhongli is a member of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), its rubber-stamp lawmaking body, sanctioned by the Trump administration in December over his role in passing the Hong Kong “national security” law, which illegitimately ended the city’s formal autonomy in early 2020. Ding has written articles in the past arguing that an increase in global temperatures may not have a direct link to human activities, particularly pollution, and the U.N. urging economic powerhouses like China to act responsibly on environmental issues would “give people in rich countries the right to emit a much higher level of greenhouse gas per capita than people in developing countries.”

The comments the Global Times resurfaced were part of remarks he made to a journalist from China’s state-run China Central Television in 2010. The Wall Street Journal asked Ding to expand upon his comments in 2017.

“When he was young, [Ding] said, there was no smog but he didn’t have enough to eat and decent clothes to wear. One cannot both enjoy the benefits of industrialization and completely avoid the damages of it, he said,” the Wall Street Journal relayed at the time.

“Steel made in China is sold to the U.S. The emission is done in China but the consumption happens in the U.S. It’s unfair to attribute that emission to China,” the lawmaker argued in the Journal interview.

Elsewhere in the interview, Ding referred to the United States as a “cute” country, implying minimal intellectual heft, and he differed with climate scientists that current temperature elevations are a cause for concern.

Ding has emerged as a manufactured hero in the pages of Chinese state media following the damning publication of data by the Rhodium Group, whose study differed from prior similar reports in studying not just emissions of carbon dioxide, but all “greenhouse gases” as defined by the Kyoto Protocol.

“China alone contributed over 27 percent of total global emissions, far exceeding the U.S. – the second-highest emitter – which contributed 11 percent of the global total. For the first time, India edged out the EU-27 for third place, coming in at 6.6% of global emissions,” the study read.

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