China offers climate of hope

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The UN Climate Summit in New York ended with a willingness to engage from the world’s biggest polluter. By Giles Crosse

At the UN summit in New York, the world’s biggest polluter, China, made a number of pledges to improve its environmental performance. Such is the size of China, that if it keeps its promises, it could almost singlehandedly reduce the impact of global warming. But China’s statement was just one of the major events at the UN summit, where solid commitments to tackle the problems were made from countries, cities and businesses.

The statement from the Chinese Government was headline news, however, because of the country’s previous reluctance to sign up to international agreements. The Government’s release promised, “Marked progress in reducing carbon intensity, increasing the share of non-fossil fuels and raising the forest stock, as well as the peaking of total CO2 emissions as early as possible.”

China has long remained aloof from the anti-warming global community, but its words suggest a new openness to dialogue. It is now admitting that climate change is the common cause of mankind and that it has a large role to play. “

China is ready to enhance communication with other countries, build consensus, shoulder responsibilities and work together to build a cooperative and win-win system for global climate governance,” it said.

There were some concerns about the vagueness of the phrase “as early as possible” which sets no definite timescale. But China probably left it vague because it wants something in return from rich Western nations. The Chinese Government says developed countries need to intensify emissions reduction and fulfil their commitment of annual financial support of US$100 billion and technology transfer to developing countries by 2020.

Other important moves

Apart from China’s announcements, arguably the most important moves was support for carbon pricing from 73 national Governments, 11 regional governments and more than 1,000 businesses. A carbon price would enable new market mechanisms and taxes that would drive carbon reductions.

Together these leaders represent about half the world’s population. These 73 countries together produce 52% of global GDP and 54% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pricing has for years been hailed as a real solution to climate change. But only now are the majority of world leaders supporting it.

US President Obama said: “We have to answer the call. We have to cut carbon pollution. We have to adapt to the impacts we can no longer avoid, we have to work together as a global community to tackle this threat before it is too late……. there is one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. That is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”

The UN Summit brought various other promises. EU members committed to reducing emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. All global leaders, including China, committed to finalizing a new agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at COP-21, in Paris in 2015. A first draft is due at COP-20 in Lima this December.

There were also promises from business. Some 24 producers of palm oil committed to contributing to zero net deforestation by 2020 and to ensuring a sustainable supply chain. Large retailers of meat and food promised to adapt supply chains, reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change. The UN estimates this process will assist 500 million farmers.

In addition, the International Development Finance Club will increase climate financing to US$100 billion a year for 2015. Meanwhile, a new coalition of governments, business and civil society confirmed the intent to mobilize over US$200 billion for low-carbon and climate-resilient development.

A new Global Mayors Compact, representing over 2,000 cities, pledged commitments on climate action. Some 228 cities now have voluntary targets and strategies for greenhouse gas reductions, which could avoid up to 2.1 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

With increasing trends for urbanization worldwide, this move represents another vital development to combat global warming.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Liang Chen on flickr

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Giles Crosse is a journalist with specialist interest in the developing world, corporate social responsibility, and technical solutions to environmental challenges. His career has taken him to exotic destinations, such as the Peruvian Amazon, and Shallow Waters in Cambodia. He is looking forward to an inclusive planet, where greener business, happier people and better managed resources co-exist.