China set to steer the global fight against climate change

Written By: Eric Biegon

Clean energy exhibition in Beijing. PICTURE/COURTESY

Long after the elections in the United States closed, the world is still some way from knowing who the next president will be. But as one and all kept their eyes glued to the American poll, an occurrence of great significance took place.

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The world’s biggest economy officially backed out of the Paris accord. Having applied to the UN for withdrawal on November 4, 2019, time for the notice to quit formally elapsed a day after the election, and the US is now out of the international climate change forum.

The accord is a collective agreement among the 197 countries that aims to prevent the earth’s temperatures from soaring exceedingly beyond levels determined by climate scientists as hazardous. Its disastrous consequences are seen in the form of extreme weather events, such as roaring hurricanes, oppressive heat waves and droughts, wildfires, and creeping sea levels.

And with America out of the picture, climate diplomats have been left scratching their heads over the future of international initiatives to address this challenge. A lot is at stake and talk is rife over who will possibly fill the void left ably.

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Owing to its growing global political and economic influence, China is seen as the nation best suited to champion this cause and a host of other international issues.

And it is expected that the East Asian country will take up the baton and lead other nations in respect of decisive actions on climate change. But why are the Paris Accord parties looking up to China? A look at China’s recent strategies on climate and energy show that the Communist Party-led country is making huge strides in this regard.

In the past few decades, China has seen rapid economic growth and significant improvement in people’s lives. However, this has taken a toll on the environment and resources. The situation prompted the Chinese leadership to rethink the utilization of fossil fuels.

“We have integrated our climate change efforts into China’s medium- and long-term program of economic and social development. We attach equal importance to mitigation and adaption, and try to make progress on all fronts by resorting to legal and administrative means, technologies, and market forces.” Chinese President Xi Jinping told parties to the Paris Conference on Climate Change in 2015.

And this precisely appears to inform greater optimism from the scientific community that China will uphold and promote the global governance on climate change while playing an active role in the multilateral process on climate change.

This view was captured by Kate Gordon, a senior advisor at the Paulson Institute focusing on climate change soon after Trump declared intention to pull the US out of the accord.

“There is no question that China will show leadership on climate, including putting a cap and trade system in place, investing in renewable energy, ramping down carbon emissions, and ramping down coal,” Gordon said

This confidence in China appears justified. This is because the Chinese leadership views global warming as a real threat. In the last couple of years, China has been slowing its domestic emissions growth. Data from the Paris-based International Energy Agency further show that China has invested billions of dollars in renewables, more than the U.S. and E.U. combined.

It is an open secret that just a few years back, China was responsible for over one-quarter of the world’s carbon emissions alongside the U.S. and the European Union. But it is moving to cut its CO2 emissions much faster than anyone. It recently canceled dozens of coal plants already under construction and has been lowering its national coal consumption.

Ecological endeavors feature prominently in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan. To back this agenda, China has already invested heavily in low emissions technologies, including solar, wind, and nuclear power generation. These investments reduce emissions and position China as a global leader in the production and servicing of low emissions energy technologies.

Achieving a low-carbon economy is not easy but observers believe that China recognizes that transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy will ensure its long-term economic development by creating jobs in new industries such as renewables, Electric Vehicles, and efficiency; while combating relentless pollution; and protecting itself from the devastating impacts of climate change on its food security, human health, cities, and infrastructure.

It is encouraging to note that China has also established a multi-billion-dollar Climate Cooperation Fund to give assistance, especially to developing nations to aid their climate initiatives.

Not long from now, the winner of the US Presidential election will be known. If Donald Trump emerges victorious, the status quo remains, but the Democratic candidate Joe Biden is promising to recommit the country to Paris Accord if elected.

Amid this uncertainty, China is in the driver’s seat and looks set to forge cooperation and rally the emerging international coalition of the willing to fight climate change.

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