China: an emerging leader on climate change

Published: August 10, 2019
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The writer is a freelance columnist

The writer is a freelance columnist

The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement uniting the nations throughout the world to combat climate change by taking measures to keep this century’s global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. Some key elements of the agreement are the provision of climate finance to poor nations by rich ones in order to increase their ability to make adjustments according to the agreement, particularly a switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, and limitations on the amount of the emission of greenhouse gases.

In the beginning of his term, President Trump announced the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and cessation of the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and financial contributions. Trump’s decision was motivated by domestic politics. He was of the view that the agreement weakens US competitive edge, and damages employment as well as the traditional energy industries, and that it was a delimitation of US sovereignty.

The Paris Climate Accord provided a ray of hope to tackle the growing challenges being witnessed in the age of global warming. But this ground-breaking treaty has faced a setback with the US withdrawal, ultimately leading to a leadership vacuum in the domain of global environmental governance. This, combined with the US removal of climate change policy as part of its national security strategy and hiring of climate change deniers to head the environmental agencies, demonstrates its lack of intent to play a responsible role as the dominant player and a model for the rest of the states. The withdrawal has discredited the hegemonic US role as a norm creator as well as a norm enforcer.

With the US withdrawal from the agreement, the world has started to pin hopes on China to take on a responsible role in mitigating climate change. China’s will to fill the void has been demonstrated by its initiatives in the climate change mitigation domain.

China has, in the past few years, adopted various energy efficient measures to decarbonise its economy which was heavily dependent on fossil fuels for decades. China has been advocating the concept of “ecological civilisation” or “green economy”, the idea of bringing economic goals in harmony with the goals of mitigating pollution and climate change, and has taken measures accordingly. One of the positive developments in this regard has been a significant shift from the production and consumption of coal to renewable sources of energy, thereby taking a lead in the sector of clean energy. As part of its decarbonisation policy, China’s major goals include lowering CO2 emissions per unit of the GDP by 65% of the 2005 levels; increasing the percentage of non-fossil fuels in primary energy to around 20%, and focus on limiting coal-fired power generation capacity, thereby switching to other renewable energy sources and increasing the forest stock volume — all by 2030. Among other schemes, China also announced the carbon emission trading scheme in December 2017 to limit carbon emissions by increasing its cost.

Filling the void left by the US in climate funding, the New Development Bank (NDB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) finance projects related to green energy. The AIIB announced it would no longer fund the development of coal-fired power plants. Similarly, China has been engaging in negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Whereas, Trump’s America First policies are putting a strain on its reliability, China seems to be filling the void and has positioned itself as the leader on climate change.

However, to what extent China can abate its dependence on coal-fired power plants to fulfil the eligibility for being called the leader in tackling climate change remains to be seen. In this regard, China also needs to take steps to halt the financing of coal-fired power plants and assist others in shifting to renewable sources of energy.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2019.

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