Seeing others' perspective speeds climate accords

Updated: 2014-12-05 11:21

By Fu Jing(China Daily Europe)

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Participants at the China Europa Forum discuss what's needed to overcome threat to human life

In European cultures, when people toast, they look each other in the eye. But on such occasions, Chinese usually stare at each other's raised glass to show respect.

Yet Wang Zhenyao, dean of China Philanthropy Research Institute, says he enjoyed looking at a French lady's eyes when he was asked to raise his wine glass at dinner during his visit in Paris.

"It was suggested that all the Chinese guests do so when toasting on this trip, and I believe they experienced a special but joyful culture shock," Wang said, addressing the opening of the climate forum organized by China Europa Forum on Dec 2-5.

Wang says he used the anecdote to show that "climate talk is not a big deal" if negotiators adjust their mindset when approaching the threat to humanity. He was one of 400 Chinese and European representatives from NGOs, academia and businesses at a weeklong dialogue on climate change.

"First of all, we need to become open to accepting each other and each delegation should work toward doing more, instead of criticizing others for doing less," he says.

UN climate talks have been underway in Lima, Peru and reaching agreement has been tough, as usual, on subjects such as carbon emission rights, compensation, technology and capital transfers to mitigate climate change. It was expected that initial outcomes and arrangements leading up to the talks in Paris at the same time next year would be reached very soon.

But Wang has reminded the participants of the climate forum that "the reality is more colorful" than the rigidity of the UN talks. "We should not ignore the encouraging green stories and progress happening in China, Europe and the rest of the world, while over-politicizing the UN talks," says Wang. "We need to focus on actions, actions and actions."

Paul Tran Van Thinh, president of the Association of China Europa Forum and former European Union ambassador to the World Trade Organization, echoes Wang, saying grass-roots exchanges push mutual progress. In fighting climate change, it is high time to expand such experiences and spread more knowledge, he says.

Li Junfeng, director of China's National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, also says the international community should put their stereotypical approaches to climate talks behind them and start to report on their own capacities to make contributions first.

"We should stop finger-pointing. We need actions," says Li, who has been part of China's negotiating team since 1990s.

He says China's economic development level is different than before though it is still a developing country, and Chinese new leadership has been striving to work on its blueprint for an "ecological civilization".

In this regard, Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced that China will reach its peak year for carbon emissions around 2030, and China will try every means possible to improve energy efficiency and increase usage of renewable energy.

The European Union and the United States also have announced their targets for carbon emissions control by 2030, though debates have been taking place worldwide as to whether those goals are enough to avoid the serious climatological consequences predicted if the global temperature rise this century is not limited to 2 C above the average temperature before the Industrial Revolution.

Working toward next year's anticipated Paris deal, Li says the atmosphere was very positive. Li says China is determined to work with the rest of the world to achieve such a goal. He notes the international community should work hard to bridge the gap because previous efforts had not achieved sustained progress in containing carbon pollution.

Wang Yi, director of Institute of Policy and Management of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says the international community should go beyond reaching targets during the negotiations. "It is about global governance forming," Li says.

He says since World War II, the UN charter has helped largely rein in war and WTO rules have governed the smooth flow of goods and services. And now it is time to create such efficient global governance to tackle climate change.

"This needs an integrative way of thinking and, first of all, we need to think about shifting industrial patterns," says Wang.

China's development has benefited from such shifts from the United States, Europe, Japan and other areas but the price is the environmental pollution that China is experiencing now. "And carbon emissions also have shifted to China, which has become a top world exporter," says Wang.

"We hope when China shifts its industrial plants to its western parts or overseas, this story will not happen again," says Wang.

He hopes that at governmental levels, China, Europe, the US and other powers will work together to achieve low or zero carbon emissions when expanding into other regions.

"So we need to cooperate with a fresh mindset and approaches to deal with industrial shifts," Wang says.

Li and Wang are among the Chinese and European participants in the civil society discussions at the Paris forum, which is part of the countdown to the 2015 Paris talks.

Chen Yan, executive president of the China Europa Forum, says the civil societies of both sides have spent two years preparing the forum, which will contribute to the success of 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris by promoting dialogue and exchanges.

They have unveiled a draft common text for the Paris talks, which requires the developed countries to respect their commitments to carbon reduction, and expresses hope of achieving the long-term goal of an economy that is 100 percent based on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

In English, Chinese and French versions of the common text, the citizens, companies, NGOs and media are asked to assume their due responsibilities to tackle the threat to humanity.

"This is an open text and we have put it online to gather input from the public," says Zheng Baowei, professor of journalism and climate change communication at Renmin University of China, who has been the lead author of the text.

Zheng set up China's only research center on climate change communication strategies, affiliated with his university, shortly after the Copenhagen talks in 2009.

Zheng says his center has finished a survey on global climate awareness among the public. The results show that Chinese have an even higher awareness level than do people in the US. "In China, more than 90 percent of the respondents say they know about climate change while in the US, it is around 65 percent," Zheng says.

In 2013, his center organized the first international climate communications forum in Beijing with Yale University and Oxfam, an international poverty-fighting confederation. In order to help speed up the process leading to the UN talks, he plans to organize such events in Europe and the US with Yale and other partners in 2015.

"Our goal is very simple: We need to spread knowledge and encourage collective action to tackle this threat," says Zheng.

 Seeing others' perspective speeds climate accords

Paul Tran Van Thinh (second from left), former European Union's ambassador to WTO, after handing out awards to Wang Zhenyao (first from right), dean of China Philanthropy Research Institute, and other European and Chinese honorees for their contributions to tackling climate change and EU-China dialogues at the forum on Dec 2. Fu Jing / China Daily

(China Daily European Weekly 12/05/2014 page16)