Sun, Apr 02, 2017 - Page 7 News List

China’s voice on climate change grows louder as US retreats

By Edward Wong  /  NY Times News Service

For years, former US president Barack Obama’s administration prodded, cajoled and beseeched China to make commitments to limit the use of fossil fuels to try to slow the global effects of climate change.

Obama and other US officials saw the pledges from both Beijing and Washington as crucial: China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the US.

In the coming years, the opposite dynamic is poised to play out. US President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order on Tuesday last week aimed at undoing many of the Obama administration’s climate change policies flips the roles of the two powers.

Now, it is far likelier that the world will see China pushing the US to meet its commitments and try to live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, even if Trump has signaled he has no intention of doing so.

“They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years,” Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said of China. “It’s clear they intend to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.”

“China wants to take over the role of the US as a climate leader, and they’ve baked it into their five-year plans,” she added, referring to the economic development blueprints drawn up by the Chinese government.

Even before the US presidential campaign last year, Trump had made statements consistent with climate change denial, including calling climate change a hoax created by China. He has also threatened to formally withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. Since Trump’s election in November, senior Chinese officials and leaders have been taking the high ground on the issue by urging all countries, including the US, to abide by their climate commitments.

The biggest rhetorical turning point came in January, when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the Paris Agreement was “hard won” and should remain in force.

“All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations,” he said.

Other Chinese officials at Davos repeated that message, including China’s National Energy Administration Director Nur Bekri and top executives of state-owned enterprises.

In an interview before the recent climate conference in Marrakesh, Chai Qimin (柴麒敏), a climate change researcher and policy adviser, said that policies adopted at a recent Chinese Communist Party meeting showed that China “has attached ever greater importance to ecological civilization and green development.”

“Everyone is taking this more and more seriously,” he added.

On Wednesday last week, the Global Times, a state-run nationalist newspaper, ran an editorial chastising the Trump administration for “brazenly shirking its responsibility on climate change.”

“Washington is obliged to set an example for mankind’s efforts against global warming, and now the Trump administration has become the first government of a major power to take opposite actions on the Paris Agreement,” the newspaper said. “It is undermining the great cause of mankind trying to protect the Earth, and the move is indeed irresponsible and very disappointing.”

The editorial also questioned why China was making concessions on fossil fuel use when the US was scrapping its promises: “How can China, still underdeveloped, give away a chunk of room for development, just to nourish those Western countries that are already rich?”

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