Home / Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Fight against climate change exemplary

By Erik Solheim | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-10 07:40

Fight against climate change exemplary

Smoke rises from a chimneys of a steel mill on a hazy day in Fengnan district of Tangshan, Hebei province February 18, 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

In the story of the Chinese zodiac, the rooster is the 10th animal to cross the river and the Jade Emperor's finish line. But it did not cross alone. It found a small raft, and invited the goat and the monkey to join him on the crossing. The goat and the monkey helped clear the weeds, and navigate the raft toward the opposite bank. With teamwork, they arrived together. Pleased with their work, the Jade Emperor gave them all a year on the zodiac.

We humans remain engaged in our own race, an environmental one, as we enter the Year of the Rooster. The Year of the Goat and Year of the Monkey have just passed, and we rely on the good work done over the two years to move further across the river.

This is a global race, as all of us are affected by climate change and worsening environment. Many countries have risen to the challenge, with China's leadership role being vital to the struggle.

If China's actions during the past two years are any indication, the Year of the Rooster can potentially take us farther than ever before.

Some of China's most consequential efforts have been on the international stage. By signing and ratifying the most important environmental treaties, China has led other countries to do the same.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is the most famous, but China has also ratified lesser-known but equally critical environmental pacts. The Minamata Convention, which China ratified in August last year, will prevent harmful industrial mercury pollutants from causing birth defects and illness. The Kigali Amendment it helped finalize in October is aimed at phasing out powerful greenhouse gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators. And it ratified the Nagoya Protocol earlier in 2016 to help protect biodiversity.

Then there was President Xi Jinping's robust defense of the fight against climate change at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

But China has done even more domestically.

Many Chinese cities suffer debilitating air pollution. Bad air causes massive health problems, leading to the loss of trillions of dollars for the economy worldwide. To counter that, China has made great efforts, including investing more than $360 billion in renewable energy. Plans for new coal plants have been scrapped. Blacklists of polluters are being drawn up. And environmental courts have been hearing more cases, and providing the legal means to ensure a healthy environment.

Besides, China has been promoting recycling and electric vehicle programs. In Beijing and Shanghai, recycling programs are targeting e-waste and batteries. And in Shenzhen, authorities have been aggressively promoting a switch to electric taxis that will allow residents to breathe easier.

China has also become a champion of wildlife. Long a destination for illicit ivory, China has decided to ban the ivory trade by the end of this year. Air China has announced a ban on transporting shark fins, a move we hope other carriers will follow. These efforts have been coupled with massive public awareness campaigns. Beijing International Airport generously partnered with UN Environment to host an exhibit of our Wild for Life campaign.

In Davos, Xi said: "It is important to protect the environment while pursuing economic and social progress." What we have seen over the last two years in China is an unprecedented effort to do this.

But the race is not yet over. We are still crossing the river, and we may be in the most dangerous part. If we think we've done enough to coast the rest of the way, we will be overwhelmed. The Year of the Rooster is an opportunity to add to the combined efforts of the Year of the Goat and Year of the Monkey to push us further toward the finish line.

The author is executive director, UN Environment.

Most Viewed in 24 Hours