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After Paris, Pressure Builds as China Sets High Emission Goals

Dec 22, 2015
  • Chen Yonglong

    Director of Center of American Studies, China Foundation for International Studies

On Dec. 12, the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The agreement marks a commitment to the world made by the 195 parties of the UNFCCC as well as pressure that they have put on themselves.

Countries concerned will strive to rein in their greenhouse-gas emissions and hold global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial age to 2100. In the meantime, taking into account the concerns of some small island countries, they decided to include the goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius into the UNFCCC.

Countries will act in the spirit of the agreement and make joint efforts to reach a peak of greenhouse gas emissions at an early date and achieve a balance between emissions of greenhouse gases caused by production and other human activities and their absorption by nature during the period from 2050 to 2100.

Starting from 2016, developed countries will provide $100 billion annually to developing countries, and scale up such financial assistance after 2020, in support of developing countries’ mitigation and adaptation efforts and their utilization of clean energy and technology.

If countries honor their commitments to intended nationally determined contributions, this will only keep the temperature rise below 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Countries are therefore encouraged to make greater contributions with the passing of time and growth of their capabilities.

Countries will follow the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, equity and respective capabilities.

There is no doubt that the negotiations were tiresome and the jostling was tough and complicated. To save the common homeland of mankind, to guarantee the sustainable development of all countries, we must overcome all sorts of difficulties, and we have the wisdom and courage to do so. The conclusion of the Paris Agreement gives us a lot of hope and expectations.

There is now greater awareness of climate change across the world. People used to view bigger quotas for emissions as a right to development. Developed countries, while failing to fulfill their own emission-reduction obligations, had all along demanded and even forced developing countries to step up emission reduction. Now people realize that emission reduction may not necessarily impede development and the way out is a low-carbon, green and renewable economy, energy conservation, and efficient and innovative development. China’s 13th Five-year Plan will champion the vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open and inclusive development, and incorporate ecological advancement into the agenda of its all-round economic and social development. The green cooperation agreements China has signed with the US, Europe and many developing countries are outcomes of such an approach.

With good guidance, differences can be narrowed. Negotiations on climate change have drawn on year after year. Though there is still a distinct division between the North and the South, interests, national conditions and rivalry for dominance have led to regrouping of members in the two camps. We have seen the emergence of the group of European countries and small island states, the umbrella group, the group of like-minded states, the BASIC group, and the list goes on and on, including the “ambition coalition” that cropped up this year. Who should lead the negotiation process? Things are different now. China and the US, for two consecutive years, have issued joint statements on climate change, which, together with the joint statements issued by China with Europe, France, the UK, India and Brazil, have played a guiding role in tackling climate change. At the critical moment when the agreement was poised for a final sprint, the telephone conversation between the Chinese and US leaders and the deft diplomacy of the host country France have given a boost to the efforts of those at the forefront of the negotiations. The conclusion of the Paris Agreement is attributable to the sense of responsibility of major countries, the efforts of governments, the contribution of the business community and the active participation of public diplomacy.

There is still a long way to go and action is essential. The Paris Agreement, though not perfect, has the recognition and approval of all parties of the UNFCCC; it is generally fair, transparent and enduring; and it has legal effect. As French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put it, the agreement may provide the best and most balanced solution. Now the agreement is awaiting the ratification and implementation by the parties. It will come into force when it is ratified by 55 parties (and their total greenhouse gas emissions must make up at least 55% of the world’s total). This means tremendous pressure for the parties concerned.

It is imperative to turn the pressure into a driving force. Over the years, China has intensified efforts to cut emissions. In 2014, China’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP dropped by 29.9% and 33.8% respectively from the 2005 levels. China is now a major player in the world in terms of energy conservation and utilization of new and renewable energy sources. In September, China announced the establishment of a 20 billion RMB South-South Climate Cooperation Fund. At the opening ceremony of the Paris Conference, President Xi Jinping said that he hoped the meeting would bring about a comprehensive, balanced, ambitious and binding mechanism. There were a lot of Chinese elements in the Paris Conference: China’s determination and actions, its flexible consultative spirit and the leading role it played together with other major countries. They all added to the beauty and charm of the Paris Conference.

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