VINCENT MAHON. China ready to step up and lead on climate change.

Nov 29, 2016

  Vincent Mahon contends that China is poised to promote global leadership on climate change should the US under Trump walk away from its Paris commitments.                  

China now has the opportunity to further enhance its global position and strategic partnerships. It is poised to provide global leadership on climate diplomacy should the United States under Donald Trump walk away from its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The US Centric Australian Media overly obsessed with the Presidential Election and its aftermath poured enormous resources into its coverage. In doing so ignored the largest United Nations Conference held on Climate Change since the the Paris Agreement. This was in Marrakech, Morocco over two weeks following the election.

There was recognition in Marrakech of the changing world order in leadership on climate change. It is a new world order,” Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said. “Leadership on climate change policy has now gone to the developing countries, China among them.” This is borne out by the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) Medium-Term Renewable Market Report. Renewables have surpassed coal last year to become the largest source of installed power capacity in the world with the fastest growth in developing nations.

According to the New York Times covering the Conference, Zou Ji, deputy director general of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, which advises the government, said the Paris Agreement could survive despite Mr. Trump’s election. The leadership vacuum offers Beijing “a way of raising its status, power and leadership in the global order,” Mr. Zou said. The Paris Agreement has already entered into legal force, since more than half the nations have formally ratified it. Countries are now legally bound to the deal.

A recent article in Salon also stated Beijing is poised to cash in on the goodwill it could earn by taking on leadership in dealing with what for many other governments is one of the most urgent issues on their agenda. Domestic reasons are also driving the uptake in renewable energy. The IEA admitted in its latest report that in its forecasting it had underestimated how quickly the costs are dropping for renewable energy and the take up rate. Renewable energy is providing energy security as it’s cheap, clean and reliable.

“Proactively taking action against climate change will improve China’s international image and allow it to occupy the moral high ground,” Zou Ji, deputy director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and a senior Chinese climate talks negotiator, told Reuters.

China is well placed to do so. According to the UNEP 2015 Annual Report on global trends in renewable energy, US$285 billion was spent on renewables in 2015. China was the world’s largest investor accounting for $103 billion or 36% of the world’s total. The United States was second investing $44.1 billion. Developing countries outpaced developed nations for the first time.

China is investing in renewable energy in the Middle East in Jordan and UAE. In Latin America in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. In Africa in Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia. At a China- Africa Forum held in Johannesburg, December 2015, China announced it will provide $60 billion of funding for clean energy projects.

In Marrakech numerous nations reinforced their commitments. Britain, Canada and France for instance announced they will close coal fired plants in 2025, 2030 and 2023 respectively. Other nations published and announced targets for radically cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. If Australia is looking for cover from a Trump Presidency to hasten slowly it is badly mistaken. The world is heading to a low carbon economy with or without the United States.

China plays the long game very well. It will seize the opportunity building on the momentum it has created. It has contributed to driving down the costs, increased its investment and also partnering many countries in renewable energy.  It can also be a global leader in the production and services of low emissions energy technologies. Leading the transition to a low carbon economy will further its global leadership credentials.

Vincent Mahon is a retired small businessperson and activist who formerly worked with the Wilderness Society.

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