Authors: Shrey Das & Wang Li

The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was passed in Rio de Janeiro with a vision that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could be made possible by including a commitment from the developed nations to cut their emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000. At that time, China was a typical developing country as its economic capacity was insignificant in global terms.

Two decades later, by 2011, China had become one of six countries which were responsible for over 70% of the global CO2 emissions; it accounted for 29%, while the U.S. accounted for 16%, the EU for 11%, India for 6%, Russia for 5%, and Japan for 4%.

Climate change is not a ‘normal’ international environmental problem, but rather threatens to cause huge changes in living conditions and challenges existing patterns of energy use and security. Incidentally, a writer such as Kenneth Szabo has irresponsibly referred to China “as one of the dirtiest countries on the planet”, and stated that “China’s lung cancer epidemic is a global problem”. By making such statements, he displayed ignorance and bias by saying that China’s drive for “Green China” was just covering up a less attractive truth as opposed to being a genuine long-term strategy to become an “ecological civilization”. For sure, every person has a right to express one’s opinion, but as an academic or social media personality, one must be cautious and responsible for what is argued, and his/her analyses should be based on a careful study rather than an incomplete one-sided review of the facts.

As both a developing country and a rising power, China has entertained its century-long dream to be transformed into a great power respected all over the world by 2050. It is modern history that has taught the Chinese to struggle for their greatness equal to the European powers and the United States. True, it is self-evident that China’s status as the second largest economy in the world is the result of a long and costly journey, which both the Chinese leaders and people have never denied. Yet, undoubtedly China has also made some remarkable changes, and now through more ambitiously concerted efforts it aspires to catch up with foreign counterparts by planning new national parks and developing more renewable power sources, which are supposed to account for half of all new electricity generation in China. In order to ensure the smooth operation of all projects, the Chinese President Xi Jin-ping in 2013 defined three issues to China’s security in the coming decades; they are nuclear proliferation, cyber-security, and climate change.

As early as 2005, when Xi was the Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province, he put forward that “the lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.” Later, he reiterated Chinese commitment to becoming an “ecological civilization” at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 by saying that China was both sincere and determined to contribute its share to the success of the Paris Conference. The analytical reasons Xi presented were that in the past few decades, China had seen rapid economic growth and significant improvement in people's lives. However, this had taken a toll on the environment and resources. Having learned the lesson in a hard way, China has made vigorous ecological endeavors to promote green, circular, and low-carbon growth. In a paradigm shift, China integrated its climate change efforts into the medium- and long-term strategies of economic and social development. Now it has installed a capacity of renewable energy which accounts for 24% of the world's total, with the newly installed capacity accounting for 42% of the global total. China tops the world in terms of both energy conservation and the utilization of new and renewable energies, such as wind and solar.

For sure, some might be suspicious of the fine words and the efforts by the Chinese leader. Yet anyone with knowledge of Chinese culture would be aware of the ancient Chinese wisdom that "All things live in harmony and grow with nourishments." Chinese culture values harmony between man and nature through respecting nature. Going forward, ecological endeavors will feature prominently in China's grand strategy for its 13th Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020). To that end, China will work hard to implement the vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open, and inclusive ways of development. In doing so, China will, on the basis of technological and institutional innovation, adopt new policy measures to improve industrial mix, build low-carbon energy systems, and create a green and low-carbon transportation and trading market in order to foster a new pattern of modernization featuring harmony between man and nature. In its intended nationally determined goals, China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by around 2030 and will strive to achieve it as soon as possible.

Firstly, the Chinese government has warned against a mentality of zero-sum game, and has expressed the resolve that acting on climate change is not only driven by China's domestic needs for sustainable development, but is also inspired by its sense of responsibility to fully engage in global governance and to forge a community of shared destiny for human kind. Rather than being region-specific, climate change is a ubiquitous problem affecting all. Given this, President Xi made remarks at the Paris conference that all countries, particularly developed countries, should assume more shared responsibilities for win-win results. Historically and morally speaking, those wealthy countries with a completed process of industrialization should bear the greater burden for carbon emission reductions. Considering that it is imperative to respect differences among countries, especially developing ones, the Chinese government has insisted on the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their peoples' living standards, which should not be denied even when the issue of climate change is being addressed at the global level.

Secondly, China has called on developed countries to honor their commitment, by mobilizing $100 billion each year before 2020 and providing stronger financial support, along with climate-friendly technologies-transfer, to developing countries. Since then, it has taken an active part in international cooperation on climate change. For example, over the years, the Chinese government has earnestly fulfilled its policy commitments of South-South cooperation regarding climate change to support developing countries, especially the least-developed countries, such as landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, in confronting the challenges of climate change. In a show of greater support, China announced in 2015 that it would establish an RMB 20 billion South-South Climate Cooperation Fund. It later launched cooperation projects to set up 10 pilot low-carbon industrial parks, and started 100 mitigation and adaptation programs in other developing countries while providing them with over 1,000 training opportunities on climate change. In addition, China has continued to promote cooperation in such areas as clean energy, disaster prevention and mitigation, ecological protection, climate-smart agriculture, and low-carbon smart cities.

In conclusion, climate change, because of its all –embracing nature and its roots in essential human activities, poses an enormous challenge for international society in which it has and continues to struggle for its sustainable development. Given this, how it is faced will decide China’s destiny as a potential great global power or not. Yet, the impact of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement can also be felt, since it will hamper the efforts of mitigating climate change threats in the Pacific–Asian area. In spite of this, it is unquestionable that as tackling climate change is a shared mission for mankind, all eyes are now on the establishment of an equitable and effective global mechanism on climate change, working for global sustainable development at a higher level and bringing about new international relations featuring win-win cooperation. A combined effort from all nations, developing, semi-developed, and developed, will yield fruitful results. Due to this, China has consistently underscored its commitment to be an “ecological civilization” in a global village, and has equally argued for international consensus, comprehensive and balanced development models, technology-transfer, and more cooperative and transparent strategies. Sure, as French statesman Fabius said, since climate change is a part of global governance, China is ready to play a constructive role and work for a new green civilization and an ecological civilization.

Shrey Das, research assistant majoring in International Studies from the University of Regina