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China’s Influence on the Battle Against Climate Change

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Ryan Lee


In light of the recent G7 summit, world leaders have seemed to take a unified stance against China’s climate change policy. As the heaviest emitter since 2005, China has the power to greatly influence the struggle against climate change.

After decades of rapid industrialisation, China’s environmental crisis threatens both the health of its 1.4 billion citizens and the global fight against climate change. In the past decade, China has emitted more greenhouse gases per year than any other country in the world, surpassing the US as the top emitter in 2005 (though emissions per capita in the US are still more than double those in China).[1]


President Xi has recognised the urgency of the crisis, with Beijing having implemented policies to stall emissions and further degradation such as signing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate and pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Transitioning from coal to renewable energy is critical for China, and the country has already made notable progress. In 2019, renewables accounted for nearly 15% of China’s energy mix, compared to 7% a decade earlier. China has made large use of hydropower for years and is the world’s leading manufacturer of solar panels and wind power generators. Furthermore, Beijing has incentivised electric vehicle use, with more electric vehicles sold in China than in any other country in 2019.[2]


Beijing will however face difficulty following through on its pledges as the government struggles to maintain economic growth, ease public discontent, and overcome tensions with the US. The BRI, launched in 2013, is a vast collection of development and investment initiatives that stretch from East Asia to Europe, significantly expanding China’s economic and political influence.[3]Though this multibillion-dollar plan is a predominant driving force for China’s economy, having helped finance trains, roads, and ports in many countries, it still finances a costly number of coal-fired power plants abroad and is a great obstacle to environmental conservation efforts.


Additionally, it has been contended that the goals aren’t ambitious enough, with experts finding that they don’t align with the Paris Agreement. For example, China would need to reach peak emissions by 2025 at the latest to be in compliance with the Paris accord’s goal.


The recent G7 summit had the climate crisis and China as prominent topics of discussion, with G7 host Johnson describing the G7 as an unprecedented opportunity to drive a global ‘Green Industrial Revolution.’ The G7 leaders emphasised a commitment to help nations move away from coal power, including a plan to phase out coal-burning unless it includes carbon capture technology. The G7 now seek to end the funding of new coal generation in developing countries and offer up to £2bn to stop using the fuel.[4]


Concerning relations between the West and China, the US has pushed for a united front to counter China's increasing influence in the world, particularly among developing nations. President Biden promoted the US-backed ‘Build Back Better World’ plan as a higher-quality alternative to the similar BRI.[5] However, the Biden administration has been vague about how much the West would contribute to this global infrastructure plan and over what timescale. There is a renewed determination among Western powers that they need to act now to counter a resurgent and increasingly powerful China.[6]However, European countries remained cautious to not push it too far to the extent that it would prevent any cooperation with China.[7]


China has downplayed the summit’s actions, with a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London stating that the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.[8]For decades, China resisted making commitments under the UN framework, with President Xi only recently starting to actively help formulate global responses to climate change. Chinese diplomats have argued however that China shouldn’t have to sacrifice its economic development for environmental protection and that developed countries, such as the US, should shoulder more of the burden because they were able to grow their economies without such limitations.[9]


Additionally, the G7 may have to address its own shortcomings before policing China. Many green campaigners have viewed the summit as a disappointment as it failed to secure the cash previously promised for poorer nations to cope with climate change on top of the COVID pandemic. Although the G7 did offer some extra bilateral funding it has clearly been insufficient.[10]


Whatever the case, it is clear that close cooperation between the leading nations is necessary, and immediate effort from all countries is urgent to battle climate change and its devastating effects.


 

[1]L. Maizland, China’s Fight Against Climate Change and Environmental Degradation (19 May 2021) Council on Foreign Relations < https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-climate-change-policies-environmental-degradation > accessed 8 June 2021.

[2] ibid.

[3]L. Kuo & N. Kommenda, What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (2020) The Guardian < https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer > accessed on 9 June 2021.

[4] BBC, G7 Summit: Leaders Pledge Climate Action but Disappoint Activists (13 June 2021) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-57461670 > accessed on 13 June 2021.

[5]BBC, G7 Summit: China Says Small Groups do not Rule the World (13 June 2021) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-57458822 > accessed 13 June 2021.

[6]BBC, G7 Summit: Spending Plan to Rival China Adopted (12 June 2021) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-57452158 > accessed on 12 June 2021.

[7] Deutsche Welle, G7 Final Communique Calls for New COVID Origin Probe, Pledges 1 billion Vaccines – As it Happened (13 June 2021) < https://www.dw.com/en/g7-final-communique-calls-for-new-covid-origin-probe-pledges-1-billion-vaccines-as-it-happened/a-57871205 > accessed 13 June 2021. [8]D. Mills, G7 News: Summit Ends with Agreement on Global Minimum Tac and Common Threats (13 June 2021) New York Times <https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/06/13/world/g7-summit > accessed 13 June 2021.

[9]Ibid n (1).

[10] Ibid n (4).

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