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The Paris Climate Change Conference - China takes a leading role

Submit Time:29-11-2015 | Zoom In | Zoom Out

Author:Tim Collard |


The world's tortuous progress towards the achievement of a comprehensive global climate change agreement takes a further step with the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris from November 30 to December 11. Clearly there is a need for a leading role to be played by China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases; and President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremonies to demonstrate the extreme importance which China attaches to this project.

In accordance with the requirement that the leading players on the climate change issue should issue their national plans in advance of the Paris conference, China's plan was announced in June of this year, in the context of a meeting with French President Hollande.

China has already pledged to achieve peak emissions by 2030. This will involve a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels, while after 2030 a steady reduction will be maintained. To fit in with this purpose, China is also positioning herself as a leader in the development and deployment of clean energy technology and has become the world's largest renewables market. China has now committed herself to sourcing 20 percent of her energy needs - virtually equivalent to the entire energy requirements of the United States - from clean energy sources by 2030.

This is a potentially revolutionary development. The problem for the climate change issue has always been an unevenness of political will. Western countries, beginning with Britain in the 19th century, have pioneered most forms of industrial development, but became the world's leading polluters in the process. Now the developing world, trying to catch up, argued that the equal application of strict emissions controls would prevent the catch-up and perpetuate the existing inequality. The developed world, led by the United States, feared that unequal controls would damage the competitiveness of their own industries. It was this impasse which scuppered the Kyoto agreement and caused the collapse of talks at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

But the U.S./China bilateral agreement of November 2014 was a major step towards resolving this impasse. For the first time China, in agreement with the major Western producer of emissions, committed herself to aiming for a peak of absolute emissions. There is no further suggestion that developing nations cannot be expected to conform to international agreements on emissions which might damage their development prospects. This will, it is hoped, be a major factor in encouraging a more cooperative attitude in both the developed and the developing world, as well as setting an example to other developing nations of how to deal with domestic pollution problems, which have become quite severe in China in recent years. It is sometimes difficult for people to focus on projections for global warming 50 or 100 years into the future; it is impossible for them to fail to notice serious smog problems in their immediate environment.

There have been signs that China has been aiming to take a leadership role in the developing world in advance of the Paris conference. At the end of October China hosted the 21st BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) ministerial meeting on climate change, which has met regularly since 2009 to exchange views and evolve a coordinated approach on the issue. On this occasion Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli made it clear that China hopes to coordinate a common approach to the Paris Conference by the leading countries of the developing world. China has also announced the setting up of a RMB20 billion fund for "South-South" cooperation on climate change for the assistance of other developing countries.

The Paris summit will be the culmination of a remarkable period of diplomacy for the Chinese president. November saw the G20 summit at Antalya, which took place at a critical juncture following the Islamic State attacks on Paris, followed by the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Manila. China will be following up by hosting the 2016 G20 meeting in Hangzhou. This ongoing top-level diplomatic initiative clearly indicates a willingness by China to take the lead in the affairs of developing world, not in terms of a bid for hegemony but in terms of a willingness to take responsibility and to give a lead.

This is very encouraging for the future of international diplomacy on issues which ought to be of common interest. Many countries have attended previous climate change conferences with no real intention to reach agreement, including both developed and developing nations. This time it looks as though there is a good chance that the nations involved will be negotiating in good faith and not purely defensively, and if this does prove to be the case the agreements reached a year ago between the Chinese and U.S. Presidents will have been primarily responsible for this most welcome development.

The writer is a columnist with

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