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Global governance vital to fight climate change

Author  :  CHEN HONG, PENG BENHONG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-07-10

Tourists walk between mountains in the Glacier National Park in Montana, the United States. In the past hundreds years, global climate warming has caused glacier retreat.

The long-term primacy of fossil fuels in global energy consumption has damaged the environment, and urgent transformation of economic structure is needed to address this problem.

After several rounds of negotiations, nearly 200 parties signed the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015, marking a milestone in global governance of climate change. The Paris Agreement aims to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” 

Unlike the previous model, which was dominated by developed nations, the Paris Agreement allows every party to independently make its intended nationally determined contribution plan according to its national development situation. And a review of the implementation of these plans should be conducted every five years.

Countries that are significant in international economic systems, including the United States, European Union and India also strongly embraced this agreement. China identified energy governance as one of the key topics of G20 Summit in 2016. It also has worked to address climate change and energy transformation by strengthening dialogues and practical cooperation with the United States, Canada, Russia and European Union. 

Defending Paris Agreement

After the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that global warming is a scam China has created to weaken American manufacturing. Once in office, Trump annulled the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan by signing the “Energy Independence Executive Order,” which focuses on the development of fossil fuels.

Trump announced on June 1, 2017 that the United States would withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement and may renegotiate new articles that would yield better terms for the United States. Officials of the United Nations responded, saying that negotiation will not be resumed at the unilateral request of any party. 

The Chinese government stated that it remains committed to the Paris Agreement, and China will shoulder its responsibility as an emerging and developing nation. China will not change its determination or its policies and actions meant to tackle climate change. China will honor the commitments made in the agreement. The European Union also stated that it will follow the original road of responsibility and continue developing renewable power and reducing pollution emissions.

As an emerging economy, India has also been active in cutting carbon emissions. The Indian government announced that India will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 33 percent to 35 percent by the year 2030. To achieve this goal, the Indian government has allocated a large amount of money to promoting clean energy, such as solar power, the installed capacity of which has increased from 10 megawatts in 2010 to 10,000 megawatts in 2016. 

Conflicts, cooperation

The US unilaterally withdrew from the agreement when the results of the negotiations conflicted with its interests. Although the European Union has promised to provide financial assistance to developing nations, their pledges have fallen far short of the actual demand. Hence, the key to promoting global climate governance is to reconcile the conflicts of interest among nations.

First of all, financial and technological cooperation should be strengthened and the zero-sum mentality with regard to emission rights allocation should be overcome. For historical reasons, developed nations should bear more responsibilities and increase financial assistance to developing nations. 

In terms of transfer and application of emission-reduction technology, developing nations lack the support of advanced technologies, while developed nations oppose the international transfer of technologies needed to address climate change. For the purpose of maintaining the competitiveness of its industries and products, developed nations tend to postpone performing their commitments in the agreement. Only by joint efforts of all nations in climate governance can an entirely new age of low-carbon, eco-friendly and sustainable development be possible.

Second, all nations should face up to the history and reality and take on their responsibility. The European Union has promised to cut 95 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions before 2050 on the basis of 1990 levels. The United States, which has the highest per capita carbon emissions, promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2025 on the basis of 2005 levels. However, this promise was obstructed by the Trump Administration. Historically speaking, developed nations emitted 95 percent from Industrial Revolution to 1950, and 77 percent from 1950 to 2000, of the world’s carbon emissions . As of 2015, the per capita cumulative emission of China was only one-tenth of that of the United States. Today, developed nations have transferred the bulk of energy- and pollution-intensive industries to developing nations. 

Considering all these factors, developed nations should bear more responsibilities and provide more financial and technological support to developing nations rather than isolate themselves from global climate governance. Only when the developing and developed nations reach consensus, share the responsibilities and work together, can the problem of climate change be eventually resolved.

China’s responsibility

In terms of global governance of climate change, the Chinese government is both a promoter of a new model for equal and just regulation of climate change as well as an active practitioner of global governance of climate change. In the future, China will continue to use its influence as a major power, unifying all parties and defending international equity and justice. China should stand fast to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” in allocating emission reduction responsibility.

First, China should seize the opportunity to lead the way on global climate governance. China played a crucial role in the Paris Agreement. China should establish and maintain a leading role in the fight against climate change, which takes place against the backdrop of a world full of uncertainties. Leadership does not entail manipulating or commanding other nations, nor does the responsibility of advanced nations to reduce emissions fall under China’s purview. The leading role of China should be seen in contributing ideas and guiding directions of climate governance. 

As one of the largest producers of carbon emissions in the world, China has proposed the idea of low-carbon, green development to actively address global climate change while adjusting the domestic industrial structure.

Second, China should project its influence to establish a new type of diplomatic system. China may seize the opportunity of climate diplomacy to transform the nation’s diplomatic mentality. China may invest in climate-related industries through the platform of the “Belt and Road” initiative, the South-South Cooperation Fund and the BRICS New Development Bank, expanding room for cooperation with developing nations. In this way, China may strengthen its strategic determination and establish a new type of diplomatic relations. 

Third, China should view climate challenges as motivation for industrial transformation and upgrading. In its nationally determined contribution plan, China confirms that greenhouse gas emission per unit of GDP by 2030 will be reduced by 60 percent to 65 percent on the basis of 2005 levels and carbon emissions are also scheduled to peak by 2030.

Emission reduction should be taken as an opportunity to force the adjustment of patterns of economic growth and the structure of energy consumption. China should promote the development of service industry and high-tech industries and encourage the private capital to invest in the field of climate governance. 

Fourth, governance cooperation among cities should be established. As communication among cities strengthens, cooperation among cities in terms of technology, mechanism and practice will drive the emissions reduction plan toward its goals. Cities are the main bodies of carbon emission as well as the major victims of climate change. Hence, the low-carbon development of cities is an important part of tackling environmental issues.

Globalization strengthens the connections among different cities. Collaborative governance among cities will be favorable to spread emission-reducing technology in a broader scope and promote innovation in patterns of urban management. The city clusters of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta should take a lead on climate change, transforming the patterns of urban development and management. 

Last of all, China should apply technological innovation to spur green development. The crisis of global climate change may be transformed into an opportunity. Innovation is the direct driving force for development. China should not only introduce advanced foreign environmental technologies but also increase investment in technological innovation while encouraging investors and entrepreneurs to focus on developing new energies and technologies. China should also establish a new domestic standard of environmental protection, promote comprehensive exploitation of resources and develop a circular economy.

At the same time, China should also hold fast to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” and maintain equity and justice in the international actions of climate governance. China should fulfill its emission-reduction pledge made in Paris Agreement and achieve green, low-carbon and ecofriendly economic transformation, upholding its image as a great, responsible nation. 


Chen Hong and Peng Benhong are from School of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology.

Editor: Yu Hui

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