China Leads in Climate Change

NEW YORK — As world powers are discussing climate change efforts at the United Nations this week, Beijing appears for the first time as a trendsetter that has made great strides in the last decade towards sustainability.

The Asian giant is still the planet’s largest carbon emitter, but it is now standing out amongst its peers: it is offering a blueprint for environment-friendly urbanisation and low-carbon growth.

In particular, its sustainable cities – like Tianjin Eco-city, the world’s largest one – are innovative solutions to rapid industrialisation.

Beijing has hence been congratulated at the UN for its groundbreaking efforts. Werner Obermeyer, Deputy Executive Director of the World Health Organisation, acknowledged China’s significant efforts to redesign transportation routes, relocate polluting industries and set up more green spaces.

China’s determination to clamp down on air pollution has paid off, at last. A 2015 London School of Economics report found that Beijing was close to meeting its climate goals five years ahead of schedule.

Whilst the United States is grappling with meeting its commitment to curb greenhouse gases, China’s carbon emissions will peak by 2025 instead of 2030, as initially agreed. Its CO2 emissions will then decrease, the study found.

The reality is that the catastrophic consequences of global warming have stirred a greater environmental consciousness in the Chinese leadership.

President Xi Jinping’s speeches on his country’s efforts to combat climate change was a leitmotiv in his first tour of the US as well as during his first speech as head of state to the UN General Assembly on 28 September 2015.

To present China as a trendsetter in the fight against global warming, Xi announced he would launch a cap-and-trade program to lower carbon emissions by 2017. This national limit forces companies to buy credits to pollute.

Emblematic of his desire of leadership, he also gave away US$3.1 billion to help developing nations tackle climate change.

Xi declared, along with his American counterpart, more commitments on climate change in a meeting at the White House on 25 September 2015, to demonstrate China’s participation in global environmental efforts. The two countries released specific plans to decrease the number of coal power plants.

China’s strategy is more than just a longing for an environmentally friendly planet: Chinese authorities have taken practical steps to contribute to global climate security.

The State Council updated China’s current climate change legislation to foster research and development on the environment, when it approved the 2014-2020 National Climate Change Plan in 2014.

Chinese authorities have also cut down on the number of cars in several cities to ease traffic congestion.

Lastly they have offered discounts on electric and hybrid vehicles in order to incentivise the use of renewable resources and sustainable means of transportation, and show that a country of 1.3 billion could be environmentally sustainable.

This way, China is proving that it can play by international rules and make a significant difference to global warming.

This article was published in South China Morning Post on October 5, 2015. Link here

The PDF version is available here.

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