China Must Stay the Course on Climate Battle
The alarming campaign-trail rhetoric of Donald Trump, who called global warming a "hoax" and threatened to "cancel" U.S. participation in a landmark climate deal, cast a long shadow on the U.N. climate conference last week.
Delegates from over 200 nations, gathering in the Moroccan city of Marrakech for the first time after the Paris agreement to curb emissions took effect last November, were on edge. They feared years of negotiations could unravel if the president-elect of the United States were to stick to his guns and pull the country out of the pact spearheaded by his predecessor. If the U.S. starts dragging its feet on its climate commitments, both in terms of cutting emissions and delaying funds pledged to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change, it could seriously jeopardize the fight against global warming, which has affected the lives of millions and wreaked havoc on economies both large and small, rich and poor.
Broad multilateral cooperation is needed to mitigate the effects of climate change. When U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, announced that the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases will formally ratify the Paris climate agreement on the eve of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, they sent a strong signal, affirming that the two rivals were willing to join hands to lead the battle against global warming. But if the U.S. walks away from this agreement or is reluctant to cooperate under the Trump presidency, China and other countries will have to shoulder more responsibilities.
Efforts to create a consensus on the need for urgent action on this pressing global issue have endured similar blows in the past. In 2001, the George W. Bush administration pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol, sending global climate negotiations in a tailspin. Since the adoption of the Bali road map in 2007, countries have been working toward a global climate pact based on the principles of equity and "common but differentiated responsibilities," where both developed and developing countries complement each others' efforts. After several rounds of talks that ended in stalemate — from Copenhagen to Cancun to Durban — the Paris Agreement was a breakthrough that ensured emissions reduction efforts would not be derailed.
Unfortunately, Trump is not the only climate skeptic around. Many have doubted the causes, severity and consequences of global warming before disaster struck.
Earlier, there were even voices in China that called climate change "a conspiracy" created by developed nations to limit the growth of developing countries. But research in various fields using different methodologies have all pointed to the same result — that high levels of greenhouse gas emissions will lead to global warming, triggering catastrophic changes in our environment that would endanger humanity.
If the global community fails to act on climate change, the world is heading toward a 4-degree-Celsius temperature rise by 2100 compared with preindustrial levels, triggering a series of cataclysmic changes that include a sharp drop in global food stocks, rising sea levels that threaten millions living in coastal regions, and the extinction of hundreds of species. Such changes will also lead to economic and political shocks.
Climate change is clearly the biggest threat to sustainable development, and the world must act now to keep the rise in global temperatures within 2 degrees or suffer from irreversible damage. The Paris Agreement affirms the commitment of the global community to reach this goal.
International treaties are legally binding, so it won't be easy for the U.S. to pull out of the Paris deal. It may take the country at least four years to resolve various legal and economic issues linked to a withdrawal. Some believe the Trump administration will yield to international pressure and decide against leaving, but instead carry out its obligations in a lackluster manner. Either way, in the face of looming changes, China must stick to its promises on climate action.
China's decision to embrace the Paris climate pact has sent a clear signal to the international community of its unwavering commitment to transition into a low-carbon economy. If the U.S. backs out the agreement, it will create new hurdles for China as it attempts to fulfill its emission reduction targets included in the joint pledge it made with the U.S. at the G20 summit. But China should strive to keep its word and step up its contribution to the global fight to match its capabilities.
For China, promoting low carbon growth offers a chance for the country to rein in energy consumption and ratchet up efforts to develop clean-energy sources. This will allow the country to improve its energy mix and curb pollution. Efforts to reduce emissions will spur innovation and fuel green growth, essential for China's transformation from the word's low-cost factory to a knowledge-driven economy.
China's rapid growth in the past three decades has taken a heavy toll on its environment and turned it into the world's largest carbon emitter. Its energy consumption per unit of GDP growth is much higher than that of developed countries such as the U.S. and Japan, which means any improvement in China's energy efficiency levels would have a significant impact on global emissions. As a vast country, spreading across various terrains and micro-climates, China has a deeper understanding of the impact of global warming. The country must deliver on its commitments made when ratifying the Paris climate deal while pushing forward negotiations for future global cooperation on climate action.
Climate change has become an important pillar of Sino-U.S. relations. As such, China should sustain technical cooperation in areas such as carbon capture and storage, designing energy-efficient buildings and clean-energy vehicles to offset the negative effects of a possible U.S. withdrawal from the Paris pact.
Because China is battling chronic air pollution at home, public support for emissions reduction is high. Cleaning up the choking lungs of China's manufacturing heartland by transforming it into a low-carbon economy and hitting emissions targets is the only win-win for the country, which could also benefit the world. The possibility that the U.S. may back away from its commitment could create greater obstacles to this, but the fight against climate change must move forward. Humanity cannot afford to wring its hands and wait without acting while the planet suffers.
Hu Shuli is the chief editor of Caixin Media.
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