Policy Alert: COP21: Rising Powers Seek Solutions for Climate Change
COP21, a UN climate change conference, opened last week in Paris, a city that experienced horrific terrorist attacks just weeks before. In his opening address, French President Francois Hollande noted “I can’t separate the fight with terrorism from the fight against global warming. These are two big global challenges we have to face up to.” World leaders from about 150 countries are expected to reach a new greenhouse gas reduction framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2020. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil on the climate change meeting.
China and the United States – the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases – laid the ground work for the Paris talks with joint commitments this past year to address climate change. President Xi Jinping was the first Chinese head of state to attend a climate summit when he outlined his country’s plans to see a peak in carbon emissions by 2030 and for its emissions intensity of GDP to decline by 60 to 65 percent. Likewise, China has promised increases in energy efficiency and a shift toward to natural gas, hydropower, wind, and solar energy.
Several voices urged China to show it is a “responsible major country” and lead by example.
- President Xi presented his vision of a new globally binding agreement, a move Fudan University Professor Shen Dingli said “reflects [China’s] genuine intent to cooperate with other countries to make the planet a sustainable place.”
- China Daily called on Chinese and other world leaders to “seize the opportunity in Paris” and not repeat the letdown of the 2009 Copenhagen summit. This was also echoed by Xinhua.
- Fu Jing, China Daily’s chief correspondent in Brussels, saw the Paris talks as a chance for world leaders to “demonstrate solidary in their willingness and ability to protect the global village” in the wake of terrorist attacks and regional disputes.
- Scholars from the Asia Global Institute in Hong Kong expected China’s reign as G-20 president would benefit from a legally binding global agreement coming out of Paris and further demonstrate Beijing’s “commitment to becoming a more responsible global stakeholder.”
After China offered to contribute $3 billion to the China Climate South-South Cooperation Fund, several commentators discussed the responsibilities of developed and developing economies in the climate change negotiations.
- Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change, said it remained necessary to fairly allocate each nation’s share of capital and technological support within a framework of “common but differentiated responsibility.” Xie declared China was united with its fellow BASIC countries – Brazil, India, and South Africa – on this point.
- Xinhua called the South-South Cooperation Fund a “vital” part of the climate change fight, but it nevertheless must complement – not substitute – for North-South cooperation.
- China Daily chief correspondent Fu Jing pushed on pressure against China to provide more funding to help poorer nations fight climate change, arguing it was an “unreasonable” request since rich countries were the primary contributors to the today’s carbon emissions.
Others underscored the harmful impacts of climate change around the globe.
- A trio of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences saw climate change already having a negative impact on the ecological health of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, a keystone source of river water and biological diversity in China.
- Xinhua outlined the significant damage climate change can inflict on poorer populations, refugees, and the environment
A number of editorials linked China’s recent pollution and environmental difficulties to the issue of clean energy and climate change.
- China Daily saw “the confidence, optimism, and sense of urgency Xi is delivering to Paris” has having the “support of a widening domestic consensus driven home by practical needs for clear air, clean water and safe soil.”
- The Global Times noted the difficulty in balancing China’s economic development and environmental protection complicates efforts to reduce both smog and carbon emissions.
Growing China’s green energy sector and improving energy efficiency was raised by many commentators as a key element of China’s climate change policies.
- China Daily Tokyo bureau chief Cai Hong urged Beijing to look “look at the lessons from Japan’s experience” at energy efficiency “if China wants to take a leading role in climate change and sustainable energy policy.”
- To boost China’s green energy sector, Yuan Ying at Greenpeace East Asia touted financial reforms while Lin Boqiang of the China Center for Energy Economics Research cited financial aid and central planning.
As the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, India is a center of attention during the Paris Climate Change summit. India voluntarily pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 but has largely resisted efforts to create new legally binding measures or reduce its reliance on coal for energy.
Commentary out of several India-based news outlets viewed the climate talks through the lens of how a final agreement would impact developing economies.
- In contrast to China, Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary who served as the prime minister’s special envoy on climate change, maintained India needed to “stand its ground till the end” if the Paris talks try to establish legally binding measures on emissions reductions and limits on coal.
- The Hindu called on “rich nations” to grasp the climate moment with a “just and equitable agreement” since poorer countries “who are not responsible for the problem are being asked to share the burden equally.” This opinion was also expressed by Business Standard and Frontline.
- Rather than unequally distributing the costs of climate change solutions, The Times of India proposed “the whole world should be invested in” clean energy plans “with financial and technology transfers.” This clean energy drive was seconded by the Economic Times.
- Sunita Narain at the Centre for Science and Environment reminded industrialized nations that they have already “overused their carbon quota” and may try to use the talks to “appropriate” even more.
- The Hindu cautioned that monitoring and verification challenges awaited any final deal and that access to funding for developing countries is essential to succeed. This was also raised by Frontline and The Hindustan Times.
- In contrast, Vikram Mehta, former CEO of Shell India, observed the Paris talks were “the first time that the developed and developing countries have read from the same ‘climate change’ script.“
On the other hand, several voices called on India to do more on climate change, arguing the risk of doing nothing outweighed standing firm against hypocrisy.
- In The Indian Express, Naina Lal Kidwai, chairman of HSBC India, urged Indian leaders to back strong carbon reductions as a means to alleviate severe air pollution crises” constraining the economic potential of our cities” as well as public health.
- Kota Sriraj saw a “perilous connection between terrorism and climate change.”
- To foster more public interest in the talks, The Hindustan Times suggested the discourse on climate change be put in “layman’s language” to demonstrate the correlation between global warming and other crises such as political instability or environmental damage.
Though proposals such as increasing renewable energy and developing forests in India were discussed, Indian negotiators have been reluctant to reduce the country’s reliance on coal.
- Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s chief economic advisor, declared that “shunning coal is not viable for India,” but rather the world needs a Manhattan Project for coal to “make it cleaner.” This view was echoed by Shyam Saran.
- The Hindu noted while “China has won plaudits with its pledge to peak coal use in 2020,” this pledge was “something that India cannot” duplicate. This view was echoed by The Times of India, who wrote “the demands of a growing economy leave it with little choice” but to expand the use of coal.
- V Ranganathan, a former Professor of Economics & Energy at IIM Bangalore, warned India against following U.S.-Chinese plans to reduce greenhouse emissions by “uncritically” following the green path of solar and wind energy. Instead, New Delhi should boost its electricity capacity with more coal while simultaneously increasing its renewables portfolio through large-scale hydropower projects.
- Urmi Goswami praised Prime Minster Modi’s announcement in Paris of the International Solar Alliance, an effort to ensure “un-served and under-served populations” have access to “adequate, predictable, and clean energy” and to promote social welfare and economic activity.
- D. Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum criticized India’s proposed solution to plant more trees to absorb carbon emissions as inadequate and misleading. “Contrary to the rosy picture,” he argued, the “government is pursuing policies for dismantling environmental regulations, especially pertaining to forests.”
Russia emphasized its efforts to combat climate change, while environmental activists raised concerns about the government’s plans.
- President Vladimir Putin assured that Russia will not block an agreement that has the backing of other major countries and pledged to “reduce carbon emissions by 70 percent compared to the basis year of 1990.” He added that the country will make breakthroughs in energy conservation by utilizing its nanotechnologies, while emphasizing the importance of Russia’s forest resources as the “planet lungs” for absorbing greenhouse gas.
- Sergei Komlev, head of price formation and contract structuring at Gazprom Export, emphasized the role Russia’s natural gas plays in reducing emissions. “Russia and Gazprom can support Europe in achieving its goal of reducing emissions by continuing to supply natural gas.” This view was shared by Alexei Grivach, deputy director general of gas projects at Russia’s National Energy Security Fund, who argued Europe needs to buy more Russian natural gas to reduce the use of coal.
- Russian environmental activists criticized the government’s climate policy as a “smokescreen, arguing Russia is hiding behind a dramatic fall in emissions following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when much of its carbon-heavy industry went obsolete.”
- Discussion of global warming has been muted in Russia because of its economic and political ramifications, according to prominent Russian environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova. Since Russia’s economy heavily relies on oil and gas, efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels are often viewed as a “direct threat to national security.”
Japanese newspapers called for more action by both developed and developing countries.
- In his speech at COP21, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to provide ¥1.3 trillion ($10.57 billion) of public and private climate finance by 2020. The fund will constitute 10 percent of $100 billion climate aid per year to developing countries, a goal that was made at COP15.
- “Global warming and terrorism are threats of great urgency that no country can handle alone in this 21st century world,” declared the Asahi Shimbun, because “global warming provides a ‘breeding ground’ for terrorism and strife” by creating poverty and political instability.
- “The situation has changed greatly” from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol whereby only developed nations accepted obligations to cut back greenhouse gas emissions, wrote the Yomiuri Shimbun.
- The Mainichi Shimbun yearned for measures to support both developed and developing nations such as the Joint Crediting Mechanism whereby developed countries offer advanced low-carbon technology to developing countries and in return receive a reduction in their own emission targets.
- The Nikkei Shimbun called for establishing a post-Kyoto-Protocol scheme with all parties pledging the most robust emission goals possible, but not necessarily a “strongly legally binding” agreement with obligatory targets or punishment mechanisms.
The South Korean government and media noted the business potentials in addressing climate change.
- In her address at COP21, President Park Geun-hye maintained the response to climate change presents new energy business chances and “an opportunity to secure a new growth engine, not a burden.” Lee Hoe-sung, the new chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, offered a similar view.
- “Korea will have to make the most of this opportunity for growth by responding to the upcoming changes with technology development and investment in infrastructure,” wrote The Dong-A Ilbo.
- Chung Tae-yong, a professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies, stressed it will be best for Korea to contribute to the global climate efforts via technology transfer. “Korea has been uniquely nurturing technologies that integrate renewable energy and energy storage technology, as well as developing smart grid technology.”
- The Korea Herald criticized government plans as “not sufficient” to meet increase the use of renewable energy with only 1.9 percent of its power currently coming from renewable energy sources.
The COP21 conference is of particular importance to Brazil and its leaders due to Brazil’s unique position as the home of the Amazon Rainforest and its capabilities as a supplier of clean energy to a decarbonizing world.
- The Brazilian government expressed its desire to reach an “ambitious” agreement in Paris, one that President Dilma Rousseff said should have “a universal character whose objective should be to consolidate the commitments to limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius.” She also elaborated on the challenges facing Brazil, including broken dams, toxic pollution, droughts, and flooding.
- In October, Minister of Mines and Energy Eduardo Braga affirmed Brazil has the capacity to reduce emissions to their 2005 levels by 2025 due to Brazil’s extensive development and implementation of renewable energy sources and biofuels.
- While the government expressed a great deal of optimism heading into the conference, Giovana Girardi, a climate reporter for Estado de São Paulo, wrote how these climate change meetings have come to feel like Groundhog Day with the same issues coming up over and over again without being resolved.
- O Globo argued if COP21 was serious about reducing emissions and achieving the goal of limiting the change in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius that “the nuclear option” must be considered. Even after the Fukushima disaster, the editorial declared nuclear power was safe and getting safer and pointed to France, a country whose “GDP per capita is 20th in the world yet whose emissions are barely 50th,” as an example of how effective nuclear energy can be in generating cleaner energy.