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Global climate governance crucial to saving the planet

By Adriel Kasonta | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-28 09:11
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A group of chinstrap penguins huddle on top of an iceberg floating near Lemaire Channel in Antarctica. UESLEI MARCELINO/REUTERS

President Xi Jinping, at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, joined a videoconference on April 16 with Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The virtual gathering of the three most prominent promoters of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change turned its focus to climate issues.

At the conference, all parties concerned agreed to greater cooperation on matters concerning climate change as well as the protection of biodiversity-the latter issue also to be discussed in October at a conference in Kunming in Southwest China's Yunnan province.

Both Germany and France welcomed President Xi's reaffirmation of Beijing's goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2060-a commitment he initially made in September-and voiced their support for China's efforts to also adjust short-term emissions reduction goals. Furthermore, the Chinese leader renewed his pledge that China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030.

In order to strengthen Beijing's firm commitment to the climate agenda, Xi also promised that China will ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which is an international agreement to gradually reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons.

On the other hand, at the invitation of China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment, John Kerry, who is US President Joe Biden's special envoy for climate, met in Shanghai on April 14 and 15 with China's special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, in order to seek common ground on global warming ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP 26, which will be held in Glasgow in November.

The two-day meeting culminated in a joint statement in which the world's two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide expressed their commitment to cooperate "with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands".

Despite this seemingly positive development, as well as President Xi Jinping's participation in the recent virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by Biden on Thursday and Friday, many observers do not perceive current US behavior as sincere, let alone convincing-bearing in mind that the US officially rejoined the Paris Agreement only in February after former president Donald Trump pulled the country out of the accord in 2017.

Far from being a "remarkable success", as economist Jeffrey Sachs boldly described Biden's summit in a recent piece for CNN, the climate change steps taken by the US president seem to be aimed at "making poorer countries dependent on private finance" and contributing to "expansion of state-mediated greenwashing", according to an editorial in The Guardian.

With hostile rhetoric toward China similar to that of the Trump era coming from Washington, D.C., and tension over an array of issues between the European Union and China, it is understandable that President Xi warned during the videoconference with Merkel and Macron of not using climate change as "a geopolitical bargaining chip, a target for attacks on other countries or an excuse for trade barriers".

As Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng rightly noted during an interview with The Associated Press, "for a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered," and demanding that Beijing "do more on climate change" is simply not realistic.

Moreover, such demands clearly lack good faith, especially since developed countries contribute the most to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The current dynamic between the West and China can be understood as an intergroup conflict, which can be explained by realistic conflict theory, which holds that positive relations can only be restored if superordinate goals are in place. These are understood as goals that are worth completing, but requiring two or more groups to cooperatively achieve them.

Climate change is a global challenge that is related to the future of mankind, and therefore should serve as the superordinate goal.

China, the EU and the US would be well-advised to move together in the same direction to jointly build a more just and sustainable future for the planet and its inhabitants.

The focus should be on an honest commitment to building a win-win global climate governance system that not only saves our planet, but also mitigates egotistical disagreements, which in contrast with the climate challenge appear to be of far less importance.

The writer is former chairman of the international affairs committee at The Bow Group think tank in the United Kingdom. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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