More action needed on climate change

Updated: 2016-11-11 07:36

By Harvey Morris(China Daily Europe)

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Good intentions are not enough to meet targets rapidly slipping from our grasp

In an era of rising sea levels, melting glaciers and ever more punishing tropical storms - one even battered the normally temperate east Mediterranean this month - it sometimes seems that the world is losing the battle against global warming.

In the decades since the phenomenon was identified and scientists concluded that man-made climate change was to blame, the public could be forgiven for thinking there has been much debate but little action.

In fact much has been done, although perhaps not yet enough to meet a target of limiting temperature rise to within two degrees centigrade by the end of the century.

Recent statistics indicate that countries such as China, India and the United States, which, because of their size, population and industrial bases, have been among the biggest polluters, have also contributed the most towards climate change mitigation.

More action needed on climate change

There is an acknowledgement, however, that it is perhaps time for less talking and more doing.

Xie Zhenhua, China's chief climate change negotiator and vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the time has come to make detailed plans for the implementation of measures that have already been agreed upon.

"We need to enhance actions to address climate change before 2020," Xie told a news conference on Nov 1. "We need to make sure that the consensus we have reached and the commitments we have made will be honored."

He was speaking as delegates from more than 60 countries were preparing to gather for a United Nations summit that opened in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Nov 7 which Xie dubbed "a conference of implementation".

The meeting is being held just after the coming into force of the Paris Agreement, which aims in part to boost the development and adoption of low-carbon technologies.

However, as is often the case in global affairs, good intentions are subject to the vagaries of economics and politics. Like most of the world, delegates arriving in Marrakesh were talking as much about the outcome of US presidential election as about their own agenda.

In a rare intervention before Americans voted and the result was known, Xie is worried about Donald Trump's threat to back out of the Paris Agreement.

"I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends," he told a news conference.

Politics have also played a part in a tussle within the European Union over tariffs on solar technology. The climate-change lobby are keen to see cheap solar energy come on stream as quickly as possible to help mitigate global warming. Governments, meanwhile, are under pressure to protect their own industries against competition from foreign producers, specifically China.

More action needed on climate change

Measures imposed on China by the EU in 2012 are regarded by environmentalists and much of the solar industry as a serious barrier to Europe reaching its climate objectives. In mid-October, five activist groups that included Greenpeace and the Climate Action Network called on the EU to remove duties on Chinese solar manufacturers.

In a letter to the European Commission, they said that trade measures against Chinese manufacturers "are making solar power more expensive and slowing down the deployment of solar power in Europe".

Their argument is that anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures have the impact of keeping solar prices high and deterring European customers from adopting the technology.

A similar appeal came from 400 companies in the clean energy sector representing all of the EU's 28 member states. In mid-October, they called for all trade measures against Chinese solar energy products to be removed immediately.

Sebastian Berry, director of the trade association SolarPower Europe, said: "The trade measures have brought only decline to the European solar sector."

European companies involved in the chemicals and engineering sectors, as well as developers, installers and power sellers, believe the tariff measures have been ruinous, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs in the European solar value chain.

In short, the companies argued that in an attempt to safeguard jobs in the manufacturing sector, European bureaucrats had produced the opposite effect of throwing many more people out of work.

The road to climate change, it seems, is paved with good intentions.

The writer is a senior editorial consultant for China Daily UK.

(China Daily European Weekly 11/11/2016 page11)