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China must drive cooperation on climate change in this new decade

27 January 2020 | Mitigation

 

As the new decade begins, burning signs of climate change make efforts to tackle the crisis more urgent than ever. Fires in Australia are still ablaze, continuing a series of climate-related disasters last year, including fires in the Amazon and California and record-breaking summer heat waves.

These climate-related extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, threatening lives and livelihoods around the world. However, the international community still lacks resolve in working together to improve global climate governance, as seen by the failure of the 25th UN Climate Change Conference and the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

In this context, over the coming decade, China, as the largest developing country and the world's second largest economy, has a pivotal role to play in promoting global climate governance.

Over the past few years, China has made remarkable achievements in climate and environmental management. At the same time, it has provided extensive practical experience for other developing countries in striking a balance between economic development and environmental protection. In 2017, China achieved, ahead of schedule, a target pledged at the Copenhagen COP15 in 2009 - to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent before 2020.

China is expected to be a key force in global carbon trading. The major task of the UN Climate Change Conference in 2019 was to negotiate how to implement Article Six regarding carbon market mechanisms and cooperation, the biggest point of contention at the conference. Such a global carbon trading market mechanism is the key to achieving the goal of limiting the rise of global average temperature from above pre-industrial level within 1.5°C.

It is estimated that if international cooperation under Article Six can be effectively implemented, $249 billion can be saved from global climate actions per year by 2030. China has the world's largest potential carbon trading market. Once fully activated, it can cover more than 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, there is a limit to what one country can achieve alone. Just as signs of the climate crisis become clearer than ever, the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has left a void in global climate governance, making it even harder to reach consensus on climate issues. In this situation, China can still play a bigger role in strengthening global climate and environmental governance.

First of all, China shall step up efforts to address its own climate change and environmental protection problems. Following President Xi Jinping's call for "clear waters and green mountains," over the coming decade, China must re-double efforts to build a green economy and push forward China's sustainable development focusing on quality of growth, rather than just speed.

Second, China should strengthen cooperation with the EU on climate change to combine their influence and resources in this mission. China and the EU have become the two main forces supporting the Agreement. The EU issued a "Green Deal" at the recent climate conference, setting a goal of achieving "carbon neutrality" by 2050. Meanwhile, China will host COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted, climate change is one of the foremost global challenges of our times and also a highlight of China-EU cooperation. There is scope for China and Europe to improve communication and build a cooperation mechanism that addresses climate change, which will in turn help to galvanize action across the world.

Third, besides greenhouse gas emissions, China should increase efforts to address other climate and environmental issues including ozone depletion, plastic pollution, and ocean acidification. This should include investing more in research on how to alleviate these problems. In addition, China can also bring other countries together to form a consensus and establish multilateral cooperation mechanisms to address these particular issues.

Fourth, China should expand the role of civil society in tackling climate change. Climate and environmental issues have impacted us all. So, environmental protection is not only the responsibility of the government, but all of society. Think tanks, environmental organizations and research institutions should be empowered to offer their unique strengths to China's efforts in environmental protection and global climate governance.

Climate and environmental issues are common challenges crucial to the survival of humanity. To overcome them, all countries must work together. As a key stakeholder in the international community in the coming decade, China is committed to increasing its efforts and taking on more responsibilities to help overcome the gridlock in international cooperation for global climate governance, to realize sustainable development and a shared future for humankind.

 

Source: The Global Times