Evidence mounts that China wants global leadership role in tackling climate change



China’s President Xi Jinping delivering his Davos keynote speech. Photo credit: Valeriano Di Domenico / WEF.


By Anders Lorenzen

Less than a decade ago China was routinely accused of blocking the global fight to tackle climate change, now they’re lining up to be the world’s leading nation in tackling it.

With 2017 seeing Britain begin the process of leaving the EU at the end of March and four general elections in key EU member states as well as an imminent Trump Administration certain to take backwards steps in tackling climate change – climate issues aren’t likely to take centre stage in Western politics. Anticipating continued instability in Europe and beyond, this year offers a global climate leadership vacancy: one that Chinese President Xi Jinping and his administration are keen to take.

This desire to marshal the global effort was underlined by China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, Xie Zhenhua who last week said China is capable of taking a leadership role when combatting climate change. “China’s firm attitude to engage in global climate change actions will inject confidence amid a rising division between pro-globalization and anti-globalization,” Mr Xie said in an interview with China Daily.

On the same day, in a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum’s annual Davos event, held in the pristine Swiss Alps, the Chinese President stressed the need to uphold the Paris Agreement, emphasising the economic opportunities arising from climate action. The address could be seen as a direct response to Trump, who has threatened to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and roll back Obama’s groundbreaking climate legislations and policies. After saying we must meet the challenges of climate change, Mr Jinping said of the Paris Agreement: “all signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”

Mr Jinping highlighted how the green economy had benefitted China, explaining that while  GDP in the second-largest economy and the most populous nation is continuing to increase – energy consumption per unit GDP is declining. Commenting on Chinese progress the president stated: “our efforts to pursue green developments are paying off”. He did, however, concede that due to the sheer scale of China’s population there was still room and need for development, suggesting that any action taken must be done in balance with the environment, ensuring man and nature continue to live in harmony with one another. Explaining his vision, he declared the importance of an Innovative and Coordinated Green Open and Shared Development strategy. Whilst pledging the various measures he would take to do more to protect a changing ecosystem the president maintained a rounded approach to the debate,  seemingly agreeing that China had not done enough in the past to protect the environment

On a global level, he said that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be implemented to insure balanced development across the world.

Greenpeace applauded Mr Jinping’s speech, with Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan stating: “given the current volatility of global politics, President Xi Jinping’s address not only helped calm nerves but boosted global confidence. Xi’s reference to climate change highlights China’s evolving calculus towards taking action on the issue. Now more than ever, the world need to follow committed powers like China to safeguard and enhance the hard-fought international climate regime.”

The speech was a staunch defence of globalisation, and at its core, earmarked enhanced technology and innovation as having helped foster new industries and markets responsible for growth. These are themes that one could easily associate with the clean energy and clean tech revolution, one that China supports more than ever.

In China’s latest five-year plan for the energy sector, they announced unprecedented investments in clean energy, by pledging to invest $361 billion by 2020.

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