Monday, Mar 27, 2017, 8:28 PM CST – China

Politics

Climate Change

Words Into Action

NewsChina interviews Liu Zhenmin, vice minister of foreign affairs and deputy head of the Chinese delegation in Paris, to find out what China’s role was in breaking the decades-long deadlock, which many blamed in part on recalcitrance in Beijing and Washington

Liu Zhenmin at a press briefing in Paris

NDRC Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Paris, December 10, 2015

China’s Paris delegation proved considerably more open to multilateralism than its predecessors in Copenhagen. Our reporter secured an exclusive interview with deputy head Liu Zhenmin, one day before the Paris Agreement was published, to find out what the brief was from Beijing.

 

NewsChina: From your perspective, what is the significance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference [COP 21]?

Liu Zhenmin: COP 21 is one of the most important climate change conferences since negotiations over the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] were launched in 1990 by the UN General Assembly. Apart from the passing of the UNFCCC in 1992 and the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Paris Agreement... could be listed as the third milestone in the history of humanity’s fight against climate change.

For the first time, every country in the world, both developed and developing, has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take... action. Different from the previous top-down scheme of emissions reduction requirements set by the Kyoto Protocol, a new model of bottom-up initiatives, [such as] individual nation climate plans – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions [INDCs] – has been adopted. So far, over 180 countries have submitted their INDCs, some of which are very ambitious in emissions-cutting measures and goals.

However, scientists have found that even if all these INDCs are implemented, the goal of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels can barely be achieved. The current situation is our historical legacy, and while we are talking about enhancing efforts in future emissions reductions, we should never forget that this tough situation is the result of humanity’s slow reaction in combating climate change.

 

NC: In 25 years of global climate change negotiations, why has this “2 degree” goal remained unfulfilled?

LZ: The UNFCCC clearly stated in 1992 that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide would double from pre-industrial levels during the 21st century if no steps were taken to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Those early industrializers – Europe, North America, Japan and a few others – were historically responsible for this rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As a basic principle, these countries should take the lead in combating climate change and should at the very least have sought to return emissions to their 1990 levels. Nevertheless, by 2000, none of those countries had achieved that particular goal. In late 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted under the UNFCCC, which placed quantified emissions reduction targets upon developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. Effectively, the emissions reduction responsibilities agreed to by developed nations were postponed for 18 years since the very start of climate change negotiations in 1990. Meanwhile, a large number of developing countries, including China, began to gain economic momentum and industrialize, thus exacerbating the severity of greenhouse gas emissions.

NC: What has China’s role been in Paris?

LZ: China has already become the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases in 2005. Its role in global climate change is significant. The areas in which China can contribute to combating climate change after 2020 drew attention at COP 21.

Actions speak louder than words, and China has taken real action to actively promote the climate change negotiation process. We submitted our INDC in June 2015, a move our international partners praised as ambitious. Since 2011, we’ve actively promoted the global negotiation process set by the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, and expected a balanced, ambitious and legally binding agreement in Paris. Even before Paris, China declared bilateral climate change joint statements with countries and regions including the US, France, Brazil, India and the EU. China also played a leading role among BASIC [newly industrialized bloc, namely Brazil, South Africa, India and China] countries during the negotiation, and encouraged the active participation of the G77.

China has also made efforts to assist other countries in taking action to mitigate and adapt [to climate change] through various means, including financial support, technology transfers and capacity building. We were active participants in the Paris negotiations and China has consequently gained recognition.

 

NC: Can you elaborate on how China’s 20 billion yuan [US$3.1bn] South-South Cooperation Fund might be spent?

LZ: President Xi Jinping made remarks at the opening ceremony of the Paris climate change talks stating that next year China will use this fund to launch 10 low-carbon industrial parks and more than 100 climate mitigation and adaptation projects, and provide 1,000 training opportunities in developing countries that are designed to help with tackling climate change. Unlike the Green Climate Fund affiliated to the UNFCCC, the South-South Cooperation Fund is wholly managed by China.

As China improves its domestic low-carbon development, it will share experience and technology with other developing countries, particularly small island countries and LDCs [least developed countries].

 

NC: Any plans for future cooperation with NGOs on climate change?

LZ: The central government is responsible for mapping out and providing guidance on both global climate change and domestic low-carbon development. However, government investment alone is insufficient. Low-carbon development requires the participation of the whole of society, which includes local governments, private enterprises, non-government organizations and civil society.

However, China’s environmental NGOs are not sufficiently developed. Green and sustainable development and the building of an environmentally friendly society requires a number of NGOs focusing on sustainable development and providing environmental services. It is very important for China to cultivate and support non-governmental players in this field, as well as [in their efforts to] go overseas. During previous climate change conferences, the Chinese government has invited domestic local governments, enterprises, think tanks and environmental NGOs to organize side events in the conference’s China Pavilion in order to facilitate their communication with international organizations.

 

NC: Domestically, are China’s mitigation and adaptation investments and efforts sufficient, specifically in vulnerable, poor and remote regions?

LZ: As a developing country with severely unbalanced development, poverty reduction remains a major task of our 13th Five-year Plan [2016-2020].

China released its national plan on climate change [2014-2020] in 2014, which mentioned the enhancement of overall resilience towards climate change, particularly financial support for poor and remote rural areas vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather. Projects in infrastructure construction and disaster prevention and forecasting have either started or will be launched accordingly in the near future.

As far as overall green development goes, the [government’s] future development model for poor regions will consider climate change. To tackle climate change is ultimately about choosing [the right] development path. Unlike big cities, which face pressure to reduce emissions, poor rural regions lack heavy industries and so redesigning their local development roadmap in line with a more sustainable model is the key. Previously, heavy industries were relocated inland to poor western areas from eastern coastal regions. Our new environment policy, however, does not allow such project transfers any longer, in order to better protect ecosystems in the country’s west.

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