Climate change as common global challenge needs multilateral efforts
Published: Dec 06, 2019 05:25 PM

A diving instructor checks the growth of corals in the sea at the Fenjiezhou Island scenic area in Lingshui Li Autonomous County, south China's Hainan Province, Nov. 18, 2018. Apart from leading groups of tourists on underwater excursions, some 100 diving instructors here also volunteer to help with coral reefs maintenance activities, such as transplanting corals to the designated restoration areas. Now the coral coverage reaches 13.16 percent at the scenic area and 30 percent to 40 percent at the diving area. (Xinhua/Yang Guanyu)

The ongoing 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Madrid has become an example of how multilateralism works, though the United States formally initiated the process to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

As the global environment is facing an uncertain future due to the ever increasingly visible climate change, multilateral efforts are needed to address the challenge, and China is playing a widely-recognized active role. 

Time for action

The phrase "time for action" is literally everywhere in Madrid after the organizers chose it as the motto for the conference and as its hashtag on Twitter.

And it really is time to act to address the climate change as data have repeatedly stressed the urgency of swift actions.

Days before the conference, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released a report, saying that the ever-rising greenhouse emissions are putting the Earth on course for a temperature rise of 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, rather than 2 degrees Celsius goal.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a report on Wednesday, saying that average temperatures for the past decade are almost certain to be the highest ever recorded, while the WHO found that climate change is a threat to human health with problems such as heat stress, extreme weather and malaria.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the opening ceremony of COP25 that air pollution "kills 7 million people" every year and that climate change is "a direct threat to human survival and human security."

"The point of no return is no longer over the horizon, it is in sight and hurtling towards us," he warned.

"I have been working for climate change mitigation and I have been 25 years warning about the climate urgency and after urgency, they start talking about emergency," said Oswaldo Lucon, executive coordinator of Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, who also works for UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to Carolina Schmidt, chairwoman of the event and the Chilean environment minister, COP25 would focus on details of the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, especially its Article 6, which covers measures to promote voluntary international cooperation by paying a price on carbon emission trading schemes and other market mechanisms.

Organizers say they are working together to make COP25 as sustainable and climate-friendly as possible, with measures to reduce paper use and manage waste disposal. Unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions associated with COP25 will be documented in a carbon footprint report prepared by Spain to be published next spring.

Venue for multilateralism

Over 26,000 people from approximately 200 countries and regions take part in the event, which is divided into two zones, the Blue Zone for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Green Zone for civil societies, NGOs, companies and others.

The United States initiated the formal withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement in November. However, multilateralism still prevails over climate change issues.

Governments are displaying their achievements and ambitions in climate change mitigation, while in the booths of multilateral development financial institutions or UN agencies, people are talking about facilitating climate-friendly pilot projects such as wind or solar farms in developing countries.

Admittedly, there are some differences, such as developing countries hoping developed ones will support them more financially and technologically. Nevertheless, countries are sitting at the negotiating table.

"We are showing how multilateralism works," said Schmidt at a press briefing on Wednesday, "no country can solve this by themselves. We make the impossible possible."

"Climate change is a major platform for multilateralism," said Lucon, who believes that the threat of climate change speaks the same language for Brazil, China and any other country.

"The US withdrawal did not cause a wave of withdrawals of other states. Almost all national governments are still in," Prof. Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Xinhua.

"That is because they know it makes a lot of sense to help reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- it's really our common interest to protect what we all share, like the atmosphere and ultimately climate stability," said Edenhofer, who believes that it is sad the US government has chosen to deny the reality, but that in the long run, Washington will change its attitude as extreme climate events continue to hit the United States.

China's critical role

China's Pavilion at the conference is worth a visit. Pictures on the wall in the pavilion highlight China's achievements and plans for climate change mitigation.

These pictures show China's sustained efforts to conserve its wetlands, manage the major ecologically vulnerable sites, and combat carbon emission by building wind farms and using more renewable energy vehicles.

As one of the biggest annual greenhouse gas emitter and the biggest developing country, China plays a central role in combatting global climate change and its commitment to the issue is widely recognized at the event.

"To make the change we need all the world. We have been working closely with China and its people to make those changes," said Schmidt. "We have the commitment of China to still working with us for the implementation of the Paris Agreement."

Lu Xinming, deputy director-general for climate change at China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment, told reporters that China wants to send a strong political signal in support of multilateralism at COP25.

However, some developed countries have indicated that they are considering a carbon border adjustment tax.

"These unilateral acts will seriously undermine the world's willingness and confidence to cope with climate change and will ultimately affect the global efforts to address climate change," said Lu.

The event also takes place at a time when climate change has become one of the major topics around the world. For instance, just before the event, the European Parliament declared a "climate and environmental emergency."

Edenhofer believed that although the EU hopes to take the lead, it cannot change the world alone.

"Europe is ready to join forces with those who are willing to act, and China certainly can be an outstandingly important partner," said Edenhofer.