[World of Thoughts] U.S. Environmental Diplomacy Changes, But Climate Change Is A Matter about Human Beings and Human Nature
发布时间:2017-11-17 浏览次数:2341

On June 2, US President Trump announced that the United States was to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015. He criticized the Paris Climate Agreement for being unfair to the United States, damaging the economic interests of the United States, leading to loss of 2.7 million jobs, electricity shortage, etc. He also criticized developing countries like China and India for being free to explore coal energy. He claimed that the United States would remain the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country within his term, and he would be willing to negotiate a fairer climate change agreement to the United States.

The Paris Climate Agreement (hereinafter referred to as "Agreement") was signed by 195 countries at the end of 2015 and became effective in November 2016. The only two countries that did not sign the agreement were Syria and Ecuador. The former was unable to participate in the negotiations due to the civil war, and the latter refused to sign the agreement by claiming the agreement is insufficient. The Agreement sets a primary goal for holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, but the signatories do not mandatory emission reduction tasks. They can formulate plans and take actions based their respective national conditions and capability. There is no punitive measure even if the goal is not met. In addition, the Agreement provides for ratchet mechanism, which only allows increase in the emission reduction targets proposed by individual countries. The performance of emission reduction by each country will be evaluated every five years since 2023.

Since his inauguration as president, Trump has gradually overthrown the Obama administration's legacies for addressing climate change, including cutting down on research funding for climate change issues. His series of environmental policies led to a demonstration by 300,000 people in Washington on April 29, the 100th day of his presidency. The announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Agreement drew unanimous opposition and condemnation at home and abroad as before. However, this seemingly unreasonable and irresponsible decision has exposed conflicts that are difficult to reconcile and imminent crises in the global governance model of climate change.

Further, the air, which is invisible, untouchable and defiant at all boundaries, is challenging all the established political structures and language. To survive in this climate crisis, the humanity is not only to master new technology and develop alternative energy sources, but also to devise an international political ecosystem without dominance by sovereign states, a language of re-defined universality and particularity, and a philosophical pathway re-thinking the human circumstances for survival.


Global climate governance in post-US era: new "G2" consisting of China and Europe, and localities and enterprises filling in the blank

Would the Agreement bring a dark, unfair low-carbon future to the United States, like what Trump said? Where is the global climate governance going after the United States withdrew from the Agreement? World of Thought interviewed several experts in the field of environmental protection with respect to these issues.

According to Li Yan, Deputy Program Director at Greenpeace East Asia, the state and municipal governments and enterprises of the US have been committed to energy conservation and emission reduction. Even in some central states that rely on traditional energy, wind power, photovoltaic and other renewable energy is also very competitive, and the installed capacity of these energy sources is already high. The Trump administration acting to contrary would hurt jobs and technology development in the clean energy sector.

Signing ceremony of Paris Climate Agreement

Qi Ye, Professor of Tsinghua University School of Public Policy and Management, believes that Trump's negative attitude towards climate governance will affect the global climate diplomacy. He said the United States' withdrawal from the Agreement was not likely to cause any substantive impact on the relationship between China and the US, but it would dramatically affect the relationship between the EU and the US. The reason is that climate issues have become an important part of the EU's ideology. The leaders of major EU countries have denounced Trump's decision, and announced that they will accelerate their own pace of emission reduction and strengthen international cooperation, to fill the vacuum left by the United States' withdrawal from the Agreement. The "G2" model once existing between China and the United States is likely to become one between China and the Europe.

Qi Ye also noted that the United States' withdrawal from the Agreement is not just about climate diplomacy. It will also lead people to reflect on the existing pattern of global governance. From the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the international conventions on climate change represent the global governance philosophy. Trump's repeated emphasis on "America First" represents the supremacy of national interests. It is worth further observing whether the global governance philosophy will be shaken up by the US withdrawal from the Agreement.

Trump Digs Coal signs appear during the presidential election campaign

Malini Mehra, Chief Executive, GLOBE International said that Trump's decision only represents his administration and does not mean that the United States is losing the leadership in global climate governance. Though member countries are the units of performance under UNFCCC, the role of sovereign countries are considered to be replaceable. In future practice of response to climate change, enterprises and local governments are to play a greater role.

U.S. environmental diplomacy changes: environmental issues are bargaining chips to consolidate its hegemony

On the Thought Market column of The Paper, an review points out that, environmental issues has been used by the United States as a powerful means for seeking national security, economic development and international hegemony since 1970s. Along with the increasing global market for "green products" and "green technology", the United States has encouraged its multinational companies to actively compete for international trade and market of environmental protection, while raising the threshold for foreign products accessing its own market or forcing other countries to lower the threshold of market access for American goods, and even signing the international assistance treaties related to relevant environmental protection.

After the end of the cold war, the United States has driven environmental diplomacy to actively seek the leadership in environmental affairs, establish international environment mechanisms dominated by the United States and lure other countries to make environmental policies beneficial to the United States to serve its general strategies and strengthen its global hegemony. From UNFCCC to the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Road Map and the Paris Climate Agreement, they all are manifestation of the United States' will. When it solicits support from other powers for multilateral cooperation, the United States often strengthens the weight of environmental diplomacy in cooperation by accusing uncooperative countries, China for example, for being "irresponsible" (Chinese had been repeatedly accused of this). When multilateral cooperation is likely to compromise its own interests, the United States threatens to withdraw from such agreements.

George W. Bush announced withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, shortly after his coming to power, on the ground that the US was not going to accept a program that hurt American economy and workers. However, George W. Bush had to re-consider environmental diplomacy on the agenda due to the pressure of public opinions, coupled with Hurricane Katrina which caused heavy casualties and property losses to the US in 2005 as a result of global climate change.  During the G8 summit held in 2007, George W. Bush announced that he would invite 15 major countries of greenhouse gas emissions to set up a long-term goal of emission reduction. Trump's announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Agreement is no more than a replica of George W. Bush's playing with environmental diplomacy.

A cartoon of satirizing George W. Bush's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol

Looking back at the history of the United States' environmental diplomacy, we can find that the United States is keen on environmental diplomacy because of their own interests rather than the so-called "global interests". Its goal is to strength its dominant position of world hegemony.

How should the media cover climate change: climate change is a matter about human beings and human nature?

Former environment journalist Zhu Lili talked about the extent and directions of media coverage on climate change issues in his commentary written for the WeChat public account "WeThinker". Zhu Lili pointed out that how media should report climate change and what kind of information should be conveyed has been confusing, though climate change has been a topic in the mainstream media for 25 years. How to avoid exaggerating the crisis and creating panic, and how to provide enough warning, how to give a clear picture to the audience on this complex issue? Even the most professional media organizations often feel difficult to deal with the topic.

One of the difficulties is that only a few stories about climate change meet the expectations for conflicts, incidents and characters for appearance on the media, and these stories are often questionable.  On the other hand, there are many points for digging into climate change issues, for example, from the perspectives of science, international relations, economy, finance and social movement.  In the meantime, these perspectives set a variety of traps for the media's language, as scientific issues are often politicized. Western media reports on climate change are often biased by political parties. They hardly differentiate political views from scientific facts, making the reports deviating from scientific facts and discussions. In a further example, many reports on international climate negotiations tend to become ideological disputes. Developing countries and developed countries have kept arguing over the issues of "right to develop", historical greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

John Ashton, Special Representative for Climate Change at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office once noted that all statements on climate change were a waste of time by now, and what we should describe is the state of human beings at this right moment, rather than some climate change issues, which are just part of it.  He believes that climate change is not a problem, but one of the consequences of a problem. The real problem is that we deviate from the reality and are drawn in fallacy, focusing on desire and material satisfaction at the eternal present while excluding ourselves in the context of history and time. Therefore, our stories about climate change should inspire people's awareness of the world and their feelings, and encouraging people to act.

John Ashton

Nevertheless, climate change has become a globally recognized topic from a fresh idea in last 20-30 years. The media has done a lot of fundamental work, providing the possibility for making climate change a part of cultural discussions.  In recent years, movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012" depicting climate disasters have achieved great success. They try to tell the audience that we are on the road to disasters, and there is no hero who is able to reverse the crisis.

Climate change novels have begun to appear as a new style of writing in the western literature, such as Far North by Marcel Theroux, and Solar by Ian McEwan. They seem to indicate that stories about climate change will increasingly become a fundamental context and background of human activities in the future.

SolarWritten by Marcel Theroux, translated by Huang Yuning

Shanghai Translation Publishing House, August 2012

China in the context climate crisis: development, and more importantly, what kind of development

Beijing Cultural Review re-published Missing Climate Justice, an article by Wen Jiajun, Doctor of California Institute of Technology on its WeChat account. The article discusses how China, the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, should coordinate the right to development and climate for sustainable future.

According to Wen Jiajun, the increase in China's carbon emissions is partially attributable to China's role of "world factory". Many heavily polluting enterprises are subcontractors or subsidiaries of multinational corporations from the United States, Europe and Japan. They produce cheap consumer goods for consumers in developed countries, but most profits have been taken away by these multinationals because they control brands and sales channels. That is, China is the kitchen, and the developed countries are restaurants. The developed countries transfer carbon emissions and other pollution while transferring manufacturing activities to China.

At the same time, carbon emitting countries and countries affected by climate change are unevenly distributed. Data in 2000 shows that 28% of the world's carbon emissions come from North America, and only 0.09% from Central Africa. However, Central Africa is the biggest victim of global warming. This is the case in China, too. The underdeveloped Qinghai Tibet Plateau with the lowest carbon emissions is suffering from melting glaciers, rising temperatures and disappearing lakes due to global warming. The disappearance of plateau wetlands and the degradation of grasslands have made some herdsmen lose their livelihoods and become "ecological refugee". They have to resettle or rely on government relief.


Climate change on the Qinghai Tibet Plateau


What stance should China take in the international climate negotiations? Some scholars believe that the China should avoid making mistakes similar to those during the World Trade Organization access negotiations, when China made significant concessions, but later western countries used these concessions suppress China's development. From another point of view, China would become the biggest victim if the climate crisis can not be curbed. As a result, some people argue that China should unconditionally reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially. On the diplomatic level, as a leading developing country, China seems to also have the responsibility for taking a tougher stance on promoting the right to development and the principle of fairness, to keep policy space for developing countries, while forcing the developed countries to fulfill their commitments for emission reduction.


During the Potsdam negotiations in 2008, the representative of China pointed out that development itself was a great contribution to the solution of climate change issues, so it was important to ensure the space and right of developing countries for development. However, this mainstream view of development ignores one thing, i.e. which type of development do we need.

In today's China, ownership of private cars is a preferred lifestyle. This leads to China's increasing dependence on imported oil and increase in greenhouse gas emissions, deteriorating city traffic congestion, unlimited expansion of urban roads, shrinking of farmland. The increasing number of private cars has severely impaired the quality of life of people, especially the life of the poor. Wen Jiajun believes improvement in technology (such as energy saving and reducing of automobile emissions) is a key. We have to think about some of the more fundamental questions: how do we organize our lives? What kind of countryside and cities do we want? What about transportation system and energy system? We have been indulged in a cultural atmosphere of "immediate and short-term benefits" for years. The ongoing economic crisis and environmental crisis provide a chance for us to question such a culture.

(Source: Jiemian News)

Organization Committee of Shenzhen International Low-Carbon City Forum

Add: Block B, Zhongshen Garden Building, Futian District, Shenzhen




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