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Climate Champion
China's determination to address climate change stands out
By Xu Bei & Tan Xingyu | NO. 48 NOVEMBER 30, 2017

The High-Level Segment of the United Nations climate talks is held in Bonn, Germany, on November 15 (XINHUA)

2017 appears to be not a smooth year for combating climate change. On the opening day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held in Bonn, Germany, from November 6 to 18, the World Meteorological Organization released a report announcing that 2017 was set to be in the top three hottest years since meteorological records began in 1850 and to have record-breaking extreme weather. The severity of the situation has also been exacerbated by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision in June to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.

Against this background, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, also President of the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said at the opening ceremony of the conference, "All over the world, vast numbers of people are suffering, bewildered by the forces ranged against them. Our job as leaders is to respond to the suffering with all means available to us ... This means to meet our commitments in full, not back away from them," he said.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, also stressed that millions of people around the world have suffered and continue to suffer extreme weather events. "Never have we met with a greater sense of urgency" to deal with climate change, she said.

After hard negotiations, this year's UN Climate Change Conference closed on November 18 following over 20 hours of bargaining. On the positive side, the conference succeeded in adopting the Fiji Momentum for Implementation decision, forming negotiating text for various aspects of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, further clarifying how the facilitative dialogue would be organized in 2018, and passing a series of arrangements to accelerate pre-2020 actions.

Achievements

Xie Zhenhua, China's special representative on climate change affairs, said though the conference was "not 100 percent satisfactory", it succeeded in reflecting the concerns of all sides in a balanced manner. And it also laid a foundation for completing negotiations on detailed plans to implement the Paris Agreement as scheduled and for continuing enhancing support and action to cope with climate change.

To be specific, progress has been made in three ways, said Xie.

First, detailed plans for implementation of the Paris Agreement were put on the agenda. Xie hoped the conference would pave the way for future negotiations to work out an outcome document which can effectively bring the Paris Agreement into reality and balance all factors and demands. Now, divergences and differences are being narrowed.

Second, the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which would facilitate the continuance of negotiations in 2018, was appraised. China appreciates Fiji's proposal to exchange best practices in a facilitative dialogue conducted in the spirit of the Pacific tradition of Talanoa.

However, the biggest obstacle is still the issue of funding, on which developed and developing countries have not yet reached a consensus. At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, developed countries promised to provide developing countries with $100 billion every year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that was also confirmed with the signatures of the 196 parties to the Paris Agreement. However, after the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement, the implementation of funding once again became the main topic of concern, especially for developing countries, at this year's conference. Developing countries require developed countries to fulfill their commitment to jointly provide $100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation, adaptation and new technological support development and to make plain how they will increase the amount after 2020. While some developed countries tried to pass the buck, Germany and France expressed EU's willingness to provide financial support.

Third, divergences existed over the topics to be added to the discussion agenda before 2020. In an effort to urge all countries to keep their promises, developing countries demanded that everyone should report their actions to tackle climate change, a call echoed by China and the Group of 77. A consensus was reached accordingly.

Xie also stressed that the negotiation would be still hard next year, and all sides should follow the principles of "equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities", in order to advance negotiations on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. He hoped that developed countries could continue to fulfill their obligations to support developing countries with funds, technologies and capacity building.

China-Africa Renewable Energy Cooperation and Innovation Alliance Chairman Shi Dinghuan and Ghana Energy Commission Executive Secretary Alfred Ahenkorah sign a general planning memorandum for Ghanaian renewable energy on the sidelines of the climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, on November 16 (XU BEI)

China on the move

As one of the first nations to ratify the Paris Agreement through a legislative process, China was also among the first to submit to the UN a national program to tackle climate change. As early as 2015, China pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 and began striving to realize the goal still earlier.

In the context of global energy saving and emission reduction, China proposed to limit its annual carbon dioxide emissions to within 10 billion tons from 2016 to 2020. To achieve this goal, a series of strong policies and measures were introduced to promote green and low-carbon development. The Central Government issued a series of strategies to respond to climate change, assessed whether local emission reduction targets were achieved, evaluated the implementation of objectives, and encouraged local governments to combat climate change by launching pilot projects and providing them with policy support.

According to the 2016 report on China's Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change, during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period, China's carbon intensity was reduced by 20 percent, exceeding the previous target of 17 percent; its energy structure was further optimized such that the proportion of non-fossil energy in primary energy consumption climbed to 12 percent, surpassing the previous target of 11.4 percent; and its forest stock volume was increased to 15.137 billion cubic meters, achieving in advance a goal initially set for 2020.

China has become the world's largest renewable energy producer, consumer and investor. According to the 2017 report on China's Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change, in 2016, its consumption of non-fossil fuels accounted for 13.3 percent of its primary energy consumption, and its energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP decreased by 5 percent and 6.6 percent respectively, both exceeding the relevant annual target. China's carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP were 42.6 percent lower in 2016 than in 2005, and the comparative reduction is expected to exceed the upper target of 40-45 percent by 2020, laying a solid foundation for achieving the peak carbon emission targets by 2030.

Xie believes this progress demonstrates China's determination to combat climate change through action.

Many Chinese local governments made efforts to reach assessment goals by absorbing the objectives for dealing with climate change into their economic and social development plans. At present, a diversified pilot scheme involving 87 cities or provinces, 51 industrial parks, 400 communities and eight towns is taking shape to explore on various levels how to promote models that stick to low-carbon development.

Officials from Zhenjiang, east China's Jiangsu Province, are frequent guests at the UN climate change conference. The local government adopted innovative measures to reduce emissions and save energy. As early as 2013, the city set the target of peaking its carbon emissions in 2020, 10 years ahead of the national target date.

Through actively carrying out international exchanges, China is also taking the initiative to learn from other nations' experiences and methods and to share with them China's examples of low-carbon development.

Moreover, China is vigorously promoting South-South cooperation and helping other developing countries improve their capabilities to deal with climate change. To this end, the Chinese Government has since 2011 invested 580 million yuan ($85 million) to conduct low-carbon and adaption programs and to organize capability-building activities. Such actions fully demonstrate China's determination to work with other developing countries to curb climate change and protect our planet.

Looking forward to the future, China will unswervingly step up its domestic actions, promote progress in global climate governance and deepen pragmatic cooperation to respond to climate change, Xie said.

When being asked whether China will play a leading role in coping with climate change after the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement, Xie said China had its own position and would stick to it. China will actively participate in, contribute to and lead the fight against climate change.

Xie noted that the United States is expected to participate in climate change talks over the next four years, in accordance with relevant rules. The United States is an important member of the Paris Agreement family and contributed much to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement. In the future, it's expected to play a constructive role in pushing forward the progress. China is willing to reinforce cooperation with the United States in energy efficiency promotion, technological innovation and low-carbon city development. According to Xie, the United States is evaluating its climate change policies, and after that, it will specify its viewpoint and position. Xie called on the United States to return to the fold and contribute further to the future of human society.

A symbolic model made by an environmental group stands on the UN Campus in Bonn, Germany where this year's Climate Change Conference was held, as a way to call on people to preserve forest and minimize the use of timber (XU BEI)

Chinese wisdom

When divergences emerged at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, China came up with the "bridge scheme," which means trying to find the greatest common ground from opposing viewpoints to reconcile different parties.

Xie said that during this conference, China strengthened communication and coordination with the other BASIC nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), the "Like-Minded Developing Countries" group and the "G77 plus China" bloc, and in particular enhanced exchanges with European Union countries and the Umbrella Group (non-EU developed countries). "And finally, we found solutions and agreed to leave the unresolved issues to the conference of next year," Xie said.

At home, China's concept of ecological development also embodies Chinese wisdom, which is a special contribution to the global effort to subdue climate change.

In the report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping proposed the establishment of a sound economic structure that facilitates green, low-carbon and circular development.

Xie held that the global economy should transform from traditional to green, low-carbon and recycling patterns of development. Only in this way can economic development, better livelihoods and a good ecological environment be simultaneously realized.

To this end, authorities should advance their philosophy and release related supporting policies and measures. Some countries think emissions cut will hinder economic growth, but Chinese experience suggests that the two are not contradictory. If climate actions, economic growth and employment increase, and environmental protection, health improvement and poverty reduction can be coordinated, synergetic effects will be generated. If climate change is properly dealt with, other problems will be solved more easily.

As Xie observes, climate change is exerting an increasingly negative influence on human development, and the threat brought by it is looming. All the peoples of the world should do their best and closely cooperate with each other on this issue. In accordance with Xi's report to the 19th CPC National Congress, efforts should be made to promote balanced economic, political, cultural, social and ecological progress.

Global recognition

At the opening ceremony of the Bonn climate change conference, Chinese efforts to reconcile actions to curb climate change with sustainable development were repeatedly cited by leaders of other countries, indicating that the contributions made by China had won extensive recognition among the international community.

At the high-level segment of the COP 23 to the UNFCCC, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed out that although China still has a long way to go in climate protection, its determination to implement the Paris Agreement is great. He also described China's climate change efforts as "encouraging."

According to UN Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin, after China became the world's second largest economy and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, its role in climate negotiations gained attention from other nations. In fact, China emerged as a very important player in combating climate change. In Liu's opinion, the Paris Agreement reached in 2015 was a turning point, since when China has fully participated in the international actions to curb climate change and has undertaken voluntary emission reduction. At the same time, China's developments in new energy and new technologies have also drawn international attention.

Liu said what China is doing and what it promised are highly praised by all other nations, and in the future, China will still shoulder greater responsibility. He believes that dealing with climate change will be a very important area in China's future development and part of the entire industrialization process.

The South-South cooperation to respond to climate change promoted by China was highly appreciated by developing countries, especially small island ones. Bainimarama, Fijian Prime Minister said South-South cooperation provided cooperation platforms and resources for developing countries dealing with climate change. He also expects the Belt and Road Initiative could serve as a model in aspects of global climate governance such as green financing. Bainimarama attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in May in Beijing.

Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of South Africa, said the four BASIC nations developed active cooperation and led the world in fulfilling the emission reduction obligations set by the UNFCCC. China's contribution is the most significant, she added.

United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw believes that China played a vital role in dealing with climate change. On the one hand, a nation like China with such a large economy, population and emission volume voluntarily participating in fighting climate change could serve as a model. On the other hand, China's striving to implement a sustainable development path also contributes to the global ecological progress.

Germany's Environment Minister, Barbara Hendricks, said that China shifted its investment focus to renewable energy and issued restrictions on coal-fired power generation in the past five years, which indicates that it is now on a healthy development path.

(Reporting from Bonn, Germany)

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to yushujun@bjreview.com

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