China’s Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli's pledge of US$6 million to the international community to boost cooperation among developing nations at the United Nations Climate summit on Sept. 23 has been immediately criticized as nothing more than symbolic by other participations at the conference.
Nonetheless,Zhang said, “To promote South-South cooperation on climate change, I would like to announce here that China will double its annual financial support for the establishment of South-South cooperation fund on climate change. In addition, China will provide US$6 million to support the United Nations Security General in advancing South-South cooperation on climate change.”
The one-day summit drew 120 heads of state as well as high-level government officials, chief executive officers (CEOs), celebrities and civil society representatives.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon sought to mobilize world leaders’ will to implement bolder policies to fight climate change and develop a more environment-friendly planet.
A first step
The decision “shows China’s interest in playing a real role and working with developing countries to tackle climate change and play a leadership role,” said David Waskow, International Climate Director at the Washington-based World Resources Institute.
Yet, some consider that this donation from the top greenhouse-gas emitter not sufficient to buy its reputation on the world stage.
“When you consider that the Norwegians are considering giving 200 million NOK [more than HK$251 million] to the UN Green Climate Fund this is not much,” said Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Director of CLG, a business platform at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
“Korea just pledged US$100 million to the Green Climate Fund so it puts China to shame. Besides, Norway gave an additional 2.8 billion kroner [HK$3.4 billion] for deforestation in Liberia and Peru,” he said.
“On the other hand the fact that they are pledging [HK$46.5 million] to the UN is positive and a first sign that they take climate change seriously,” she added.
World leaders reiterated the importance to take climate actions jointly.
“Some countries have a special responsibility to lead,” Secretary General Ban pointed out after Premier Li’s address.
A few minutes earlier, President Barack Obama stressed that “we have a special responsibility to lead. This is what big nations have to do.” He called on China to join global efforts on climate change.
“No nation can meet this global threat alone,” he said.
In response, Zhang expressed China’s commitment to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
“Responding to climate change is what China needs to do to achieve sustainable development at home as well as fulfil its international responsibilities,” he said.
Zhang then listed the steps China has taken to decrease its carbon emissions. He said that the Chinese government “has formulated and implemented the national plan on climate change to make sure [it] will meet the target of cutting carbon emission by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level.”
He also referred to a World Bank report stating that China contributed to saving 57percent of all energy globally between 1991 and 2010.
“As a major and responsible developing country, China will make even greater effort to address climate change and take on international responsibility that are commeasured with [its] national conditions and capabilities,” said Premier Li.
He declared that China will announce “as soon as we can” a post-2020 program on climate change.
Zhang ended his remarks with a three-point proposal exhorting all nations to uphold the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, strengthen collective cooperation and build a better future for mankind.
On the right path?
Notwithstanding that 120 heads of state attended the Climate summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were the two notable absentees. The two countries account for one third of the planet’s greenhouse gases emissions. The United States is the second largest emitter and India is the third one.
“It is always better to have the highest possible representation but it is really about the country’s commitment,” said Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary General in an exclusive meeting on 21 September 2014.
“What is expecting of China is the same of what is expecting from industrial powers,” he said. “Cutting back of emissions, [implementing] greener, more climate-friendly policies.”
“Obviously, [the] Chinese government and President Xi have other diplomatic arrangements, but recent ground shaking developments in China dramatically improve the chances for [the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in] Paris,” said Sze Ping Lo, Chief Executive Officer of World Wildlife Fund China at the United Nations summit.
The reality is that Beijing has more responsibilities than other countries to commit to a greener planet.
A Global Carbon Budget report published on Sept. 21 noted that the world’s second largest economy outstripped the pollution levels of the European Union in terms of per capita emissions for the first time in 2013.
Amid worsening air pollution, China produced 28percent of global emissions, compared with 14percent for the United States, 10percent for the European Union and 7percent for India last year.
Between 2012 and 2013, Beijing increased its CO2 emissions by 4.2 percent compared to 2.9 percent for the United States, 1.8 percent for the European Union and 5.1 percent for India.
Reaching out to China
Dujarric indicated that the United Nations was engaging Chinese youth on climate change and sustainable development thanks to social media outlets like Weibo, WeChat and Youku.
“We found a very receptive audience with those companies,” he said.
Secretary General Ban has spoken in three live conversations on Weibo. His July 2012 attracted 16,000 questions from users.
“We got the Security General on a bike in Beijing but the police would not let him in New York,” Dujarric joked.