Finally, a nation that is contributing heavily to climate change is taking a major step to reduce its emissions. Unfortunately, this global leadership is not coming from the United States. It’s coming from China.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, so the news (reported by Xinhua, a state-owned media service) that it’s going to introduce a carbon tax is huge. The tax is unlikely to be on the scale that experts suggest would make a serious dent in climate change: In 2010, China’s ministry of finance suggested levying a carbon tax of 10 yuan ($1.60) per ton in 2012, to rise to 50 yuan ($8) per ton in 2020. Experts have suggested a tax of 500 yuan, or $80 per ton.

Still, even a small Chinese carbon tax would mean a dramatic step forward for the planet. And it’s a lot more than anything the United States has done.

China’s announcement also comes as a bit of a surprise. For years, China has been a strident opponent of coordinated international efforts to combat climate change — rivaled only by the United States in this opposition.

Yet China has much to lose from the steady encroachment of climate change, and it’s finally starting to acknowledge that fact.

Improving the environment isn’t just a matter of good policy for the Chinese government; it’s a matter of political survival.

Even if China’s plan is driven by its own internal politics, it’s still a better plan than what the United States has — which is no plan at all.

It’s just one more sign that the rest of the world is moving forward on climate change, boosting their own renewable energy industries and improving the health of their populations in the process. Meanwhile, the clock is running out and the United States is still running in place.

– San Francisco Chronicle, March 11