Xi calls for concrete actions on climate change
Developed countries urged to honor green pledges, take lead in promulgating technology
Published: Oct 31, 2021 07:19 PM

Chinese President Xi Jinping calls on the world to promote a more robust, greener and healthier global development while addressing the 16th G20 Leaders' Summit in Rome, Italy via video link on October 31, 2021. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping calls on the world to promote a more robust, greener and healthier global development while addressing the 16th G20 Leaders' Summit in Rome, Italy via video link on October 31, 2021. Photo: Xinhua

On the same day when the highly expected COP26 convened, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed at a G20 session that concrete actions are essential for international community to properly respond to outstanding global challenges of climate change and energy issue, and developed countries should honor their green commitments and provide financial support to developing countries. 

President Xi called for G20 members to take the lead in promulgating the application of advanced technologies, and countries should fully, effectively implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

The group adopted "Rome Declaration," on Sunday night, agreeing to help developing countries increase the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, key medical products and raw materials, and address related supply and financing constraints.
The declaration also says the G20 members look forward to the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, hailing them as an important opportunity for worldwide athletes to compete and a symbol of human resilience.

As COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP), started in Glasgow on Sunday, the world's attention will focus on how leaders and delegations from more than 190 countries will deliver on their climate change promises. 

Developed countries need to lead by example on emissions reduction, fully accommodate the special difficulties and concerns of developing countries, deliver on their commitments to climate financing, and provide technology, capacity-building and other support for developing countries, Xi told another G20 session on Saturday. This is critically important for the success of the upcoming COP26, he noted. 

As a major contributor and participant in global climate governance, China has submitted an updated climate pledge, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the UN days ahead of the highly expected meeting. It also issued a white paper last week to share with the world its dedication and experience in tackling global warming, which said China's target of achieving peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 marks the world's highest reduction in carbon emission intensity and the shortest time in achieving the goal of going from carbon peak to carbon neutrality in global history. 

China's responsibility on climate change is demonstrated by the pledges it has made so far, including reiterating that China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. A policy guidance released on October 24 added that the proportion of non-fossil energy consumption would increase to about 25 percent in 2030 and more than 80 percent by 2060, something that is not easy to achieve, Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told Global Times on Sunday. 

The Chinese President highlighted the need for lowering the cost of reducing emission through technologies, and developing countries' need for help from developed countries, as they have to tackle climate change while ensuring livelihoods, Lin noted. 

Xi also said on Sunday that environmental protection and economic development must be coordinated and climate change must be addressed while people's wellbeing is ensured, adding that major economies should strengthen cooperation in this regard.

US President Joe Biden left on Thursday for the G20 leaders meeting in Rome and was expected to head to Glasgow later on Sunday. His departure to Rome was delayed as he had to attend the House Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday, in what was likely to have been an attempt to secure the backing of progressive lawmakers for his agenda, after the failure to reach an intraparty agreement on the $1.5-2 trillion spending plan aimed at addressing issues including climate change. It means Biden will probably attend COP26 without a final US climate deal, driving doubts over whether the US agenda to cut emissions enough to give Biden credibility at COP26. 

Despite the ongoing tensions between China and the US, Lin noted that there's still a lot of room for the two countries to cooperate on this issue, as both are the largest emitters in the world and have to work together to address climate change. Without efforts from both sides, it's impossible to achieve any ambitious goal internationally. 

COP26 has been described by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as "the world's moment of truth." World leaders, delegations and experts agreed on the importance of the two weeks of meetings in fighting climate change as it would also be the moment for countries to take concrete steps in reducing emissions since they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, under which countries agreed to step up efforts to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"This year's COP meeting will generate various formal documents, as it is the first meeting that is endowed with legal force under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Negotiations during the past years were not bound by law," Wang Mou from the research centre of urban and environment studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who is also a member of Chinese delegation to COP26, said during a recent online conference. 

Wang pointed out the difference between formal and informal documents by using the file passed at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference as an example, saying it does not possess legal force, thus it cannot serve as a basis of further negotiation, and can be discarded by any party at any time, he said. 

"I believe that the fruits of the past two years' negotiations will be passed, or at least recognized during this COP meeting, to give them legal status," Wang said. 

A key role

As a major emitter, China's position and solutions to the climate change fight caught public attention ahead of the COP26.

While some Western leaders and media continued pressuring China "to do more" to tackle climate change, some experts who had taken part in climate negotiations and policy-making said China has done "very well" in delivering on its promises as a developing country in fighting global warming, and played a leading role in energy restructuring. 

"Under the current energy structure, there's no country in the world that can do as well as China does," Pan Jiahua, director of the institute of eco-civilization studies of the Beijing University of Technology, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

Given that coal still plays a dominant role in China's energy sector compared to the EU and the US, China has been boosting measures to cut emissions and transition from coal reliance to a clean energy path, Pan said, noting that China's cumulative installed capacity of renewable energy accounts for one-third of the world's total current installed renewable energy capacity. 

The world may, to some extent, be inspired by China's ambitious goal of hitting peak emissions before 2030 and reaching for carbon neutrality by 2060. It is hard to imagine even a few years ago or when the Paris Agreement was signed, that more than 100 countries have put forward their goals for carbon neutrality whether by year 2050 or 2060, according to experts. "I believe the cohort effect is largely related to China setting up such ambitious goals," Wang noted. 

He also pointed out that Japan and South Korea are the ones that have been most directly influenced by China. Although we dare not say China has played a "leading role", at the very least it has been a "very important contributor," Wang said.

Major obstacles 

However, climate change negotiations face obstacles not only on differentiated targets but also on how much every country contributes to cutting emissions, according to experts. "Also, there's a money problem. Developing countries need more financial support in fighting climate change and in transforming their economies to low-carbon emissions. China has been providing coordinated help and has been much more generous than developed countries like the US and Europe," Pan said. 

Wealthy countries confirmed last week that they failed to meet a 2009 promise to deliver $100 billion annually by 2020 in climate finance to help poorer nations cut their own emissions and build resilient systems to weather worsening storms, floods and other climate impacts, Reuters reported on Sunday. 

It has also led to mistrust among developing countries and undermined rich nations' requests that the developing world cut emissions faster, and the COP26 will need to produce a plan to turn financial support into a reality, according to the media report. 

Leaders of the G20 called for "meaningful and effective" action to limit global warming at 1.5C, Reuters reported, citing a communique.

However, the communique contained few concrete actions and made no reference to a specific 2050 date to achieve net zero carbon emissions that scientists say is vital to stave off disastrous climate change, the media report said.

While some analysis pointed out that the success of the COP26 would be judged on whether all the delegates can agree on a 1.5C goal, the underlying question is how to make progress, according to experts. Meanwhile, some Western media pointed out that unlike some developed countries, China has not offered clear support for the 1.5C target.

"We do not actively promote the revision of this target, nor do we oppose it," Wang said, noting that from China's stage of development as well as its future development demands, it is unnecessary for us to actively promote the 1.5C process.  

"China's target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 was more ambitious than the two-degree target," he said.