World / Reporter's Journal

Hillary's claims on China's climate action are laughable

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-10-26 04:04

All politicians like to take the credit, never the blame. This is certainly the case with Hillary Clinton, so far the Democrat presidential front runner, touting her record on climate change.

"I have been on the forefront of dealing with climate change starting in 2009 when President Obama and I crashed a meeting with the Chinese and got them to sign up to the first international agreement to combat climate change that they've ever joined," Clinton said during the Democratic presidential debate on Oct 13.

Hillary's claims on China's climate action are laughable

Clinton's implied message was clear: that China was resistant, or at least reluctant, to fight climate change until she and Obama inspired and transformed them.

For anyone who has been following the issue, her claim of credit is not just unfounded, but laughable.

Rather than being reluctant, as Clinton had tried to portray, China, still a developing country, has been taking the lead in the world in the past years in combating climate change, something that is clearly reflected in both its ambitious 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and high-profile public awareness.

A survey released in June this year by YouGov, a global internet-based market research firm headquartered in the UK, shows that China leads the world in public support for government action on climate change. Some 60 percent of the people surveyed in China favor a leadership role for their country, compared with 44 percent in the US.

A survey released in July by the Pew Research Center also showed that while climate change was viewed as the top global threat by people in many countries, including China, it was ranked by Americans behind global economic instability, ISIS, Iran's nuclear program, cyber attacks and tensions with Russia.

Clearly the former US Secretary of State has a tough job ahead of her in educating and inspiring her own people during her busy presidential campaign.

Anyone who has ever lived in China can easily understand why there is such overwhelming public support while it is such a divisive issue among Americans. It is the serious air pollution — rather than Hillary Clinton — that has awakened most Chinese of the fact that the country can no longer continue on its previous unsustainable path.

The new normal — a slower but more sustainable and environmentally friendly economic model pursued by the current government led by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang — is precisely aimed at switching that path.

So the bold actions taken by China in the past years, such as dramatically increasing its investment in renewable energy, and reaching landmark deals with the US on climate change, is not the result of Obama or Clinton's inspiration, but the great expectations of the everyday people of China.

The Financial Times (UK) praised China's leadership in combating climate change in an editorial last month during President Xi's visit to the US, pointing to China's $3.1 billion in financial assistance to help low-income countries least able to help themselves and China's commitment to launch a national cap-and-trade carbon market by 2017.

"China is demonstrating leadership at a time when the climate agenda has lacked champions willing to take political risks. Beijing's initiative adds momentum to the discussions ahead of the international climate conference in Paris at the end of the year," the FT editors said.

China now leads the world in renewable energy production. As of 2014, China leads the world in the production and use of wind power, solar photovoltaic power and smart grid technologies, according to a September 2014 article in the prestigious journal Nature.

Most Chinese know that such laudable achievements are only the first steps in a long march ahead.

In fact, it might sound puzzling for many Americans, especially the environmentalists when Clinton tried to take credit for China's actions.

Clinton had refused to comment on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport heavy crude oil from Western Canada to the US, until last month, something largely interpreted as her concern over offending the unions, which support the project.

Little wonder that some of her fellow Democrats have accused her of flip-flopping, since, as Secretary of State in 2010, she said "we are inclined to do so," meaning to endorse the project.

The same goes for her newfound opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) these days for fear of losing the vital support of anti-free-trade unions. As Secretary of State, Clinton touted the TPP 45 times, calling it the "gold standard," according to CNN.

Clinton has also been supportive of offshore drilling for oil and it is not clear if this is because oil giants such as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips and oil-rich nations in the Middle East have been donors of the Clinton Foundation.

Whatever the case, the leading Democrat presidential candidate clearly has a more daunting task ahead of inspiring not the Chinese, but the Republicans, who control the Congress and count among their ranks many climate change deniers.

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