Climate change requires a multilateral humanitarian system, not Western dominance: UK scholar
Published: Nov 29, 2023 06:24 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/ GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/ GT

Editor's Note: 

The 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, also known as the COP28, will kick off in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday to accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis. With global temperatures hitting record highs, and extreme weather events affecting people around the globe, climate action cannot wait. In an exclusive interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Ma Ruiqian during the third Soochow International Humanitarian Forum recently held in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, Hugo Slim (Slim), senior research fellow at Las Casas Institute for Social Justice at the University of Oxford, shared his insights on China's efforts on dealing with climate change. He also explained how China contributes to humanitarian efforts in the context of climate change and emphasized the significance of international cooperation.

GT: What kinds of humanitarian crises are we facing today?

Slim: The major issue under discussion today is the emergency arising from climate change. In a sense, as of 2023, we are at the beginning of a long emergency. Throughout the 2020s and 2030s, we will grapple with this climate emergency, including increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, floods, winds and fires. It is also an emergency for nature, biodiversity and our overall environment, altering the conditions of human life. Concurrently, we are facing the ongoing challenge of terrible wars. Conflict, violence and clashes between people preoccupy us when we really need to focus on the long emergency of climate. We need a new way, a new vision and new values of working together.

GT: How do you see the significance of global communication and cooperation on humanitarian assistance and climate change?

Slim: I have been emphasizing cooperation today because the climate emergency does not respect national borders. Winds blow across countries and continents, waters flow, floods cross continents and countries, and heat as well. Therefore, we have to work together in this long emergency with neighbors across the world. That means we need to have a humanitarian system that is not just dominated by the West. What is needed is a multilateral humanitarian system where everybody is involved, accepting humanitarian aid with different characteristics - be they Chinese, Indian characteristics or African - and we plan and work together.

There is a significant humanitarian system in China and another one potentially along the Belt and Road with China's neighbors. South-South cooperation is important. We also need India to take effective climate action, along with Europe and the US. Cooperation with Africa is also crucial. We need to cooperate and talk to each other, even if we have geopolitical and political differences. Maintaining an open humanitarian channel for continuous dialogue on climate-related disasters is very important. The cooperation is inclusive and we need to include everyone and formulate global policies addressing the climate emergency. We have to keep talking.

GT: How do you view China's role and contribution to international humanitarian aid and addressing climate change issues?

Slim: I'm very impressed with China for two reasons. Firstly, China is taking responsibility for humanitarian assistance, climate action and emergency management within its borders. Every nation has the primary responsibility to its citizens, and China is actively fulfilling this duty and expanding its efforts. 

Secondly, China is also extending its efforts globally. I've been in this business for 40 years now. What's truly exciting now is that China is scaling up and exerting significant influence. The Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) is collaborating worldwide, especially with countries participating in the Belt and Road and beyond. Here in Suzhou, the International Academy of Red Cross is becoming a vital academic institution, educational center, and research center concerning the Red Cross movement, not just for China but for the entire world. I hope the RCSC will continue to grow in influence and emerge as a humanitarian major power on the global stage.

Importantly, President Xi Jinping's vision provides us with crucial ideas, especially regarding the need to find harmony between humans and nature. As President Xi emphasized, we need to cherish the eco-environment as we cherish our own lives. We have to be humanitarian for all life, not just for humans but also for the life of nature. 

GT: You mentioned China's core values of ecological civilization in your speech. How do you view the intersection of China's values and international humanitarian principles, such as "a global community of shared future"?

Slim: I'm British, and we have a very young civilization, but China is a very ancient civilization. If you read books like Analects of Confucius or the books of Laozi, you'll find a lot of values centered around nature, emphasizing the importance of living in harmony with nature. The blue skies, the green mountains, the clean water, all of these are very important. We need to see the beauty of all life, not just the beauty of the human person, but the whole life and the beauty of the planet and our environment. These values have deep roots in China. I think that is really where China can speak to the whole world with its policy wisdom. 

GT: Recently, China and the US jointly issued the Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis. How do you view this cooperation between China and the US?

Slim: I am very happy that President Xi and President Biden met in San Francisco. All of us who care about the world, who care about the planet, want, and need, China and the US to work together in peace. This is crucial for addressing the long emergency of climate change. I am very pleased that talks are continuing between John Kerry from the US and your own climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. It's very important that in the world of politics, we maintain a green channel of dialogue, free and open all the time. So, all the people of the world need China and the US to make agreements about climate action and to work together for the world.