Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

Paris pact about the planet, not about ceding leadership to China

By Chen Weihua ( Updated: 2017-06-05 03:25

It was sad to hear US President Donald Trump announcing last Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. And it's also sad to see in the past week that so many people have interpreted it as the US ceding leadership to China.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015 and signed by 195 members as of this month, is about efforts to reduce global warming rather than geopolitical jostling between the US and China, the established power and a rising power.

In fact, it was the close cooperation between the two nations and their deep determination and commitment in recent years that led to a relatively speedy acceptance of the Paris Agreement.

The US, as the largest developed nation, the largest economy and the second-largest emitter, was expected to play a leading role in implementing the Paris accord, despite the fact the agreement itself is not enough to curb global warming as much as needed.

In this sense, the US withdrawal will deal a heavy blow to a cause to save the planet and preserve a better world for future generations.

Yes, it is also a heavy blow to US leadership in the world. But to focus or condemn it as the US ceding leadership to China is simply a wrong approach.

"Trump hands the Chinese a gift: the chance for global leadership," claimed the headline of the story by David Sanger and Jane Perlez of The New York Times on June 1. "His (Trump) decision is perhaps the greatest strategic gift to the Chinese, who are eager to fill the void that Washington is leaving around the world on everything from setting the rules of trade and environmental standards to financing the infrastructure projects that give Beijing vast influence," they wrote.

"If Trump doesn't want a world leadership role, China will take it" is the title of a story on Friday by Paul Shinkman of US News and World Report.

While it might be forgiven for US journalists, similar claims by climate experts, such as Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), came as more of a surprise.

"Trump's Paris withdrawal cedes global leadership to China" is the title of an article Friday posted by Finamore on the NRDC website.

She claimed that "Trump has also handcuffed the US ability to compete with China in the biggest market opportunity of the century: clean energy."

In my mind, people in NRDC, a global environmental advocacy group, should focus more on how Trump's decision is going to ruin the planet rather than on a competition with China.

If there is a competition in clean energy, it should be friendly competition because the world, especially the developing world, needs more clean technology from China and the US to reach their claimed goals in the Paris Agreement.

Would people from The New York Times to NRDC be happier if China followed suit and withdrew from the Paris accord? Of course not.

Instead, they should celebrate, as former US Vice-President Al Gore has expressed, that China and the Europe Union have stepped up their commitments to the Paris Agreement. Premier Li Keqiang made that statement publicly during his visit to Europe last week.

China has never celebrated the US withdrawal or the void left by the US, as some in the US have worried in the past week. China, unlike the US, has never claimed to be a global leader, even it is playing such a role in some areas.

Given its severe air pollution, China is facing a huge challenge on the environmental front, but its progress and determination in clean energy in recent years have also impressed the world.

Beth Gardiner, a London-based environmental journalist and a former Associated Press reporter, wrote last month from East China's Zhejiang province that Chinese manufacturing has changed the economics of renewable power around the world, making solar generation cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels like natural gas and even coal.

"It has brought change closer to home too, as China rolls out the world's biggest investment in clean energy — motivated in part by a desire to ease the atrocious air pollution that kills an estimated 1.1 million of its people every year," she wrote.

In 2016 alone, China added 35 gigawatts of new solar generation, almost equal to Germany's total capacity. Every hour, China erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field, according to Greenpeace sources.

China's goal is to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Recently, China announced it would spend $360 billion on the effort in the coming three years. China also leads the world in clean energy jobs, with 3.64 million in 2016.

So instead of sounding sour on China's great leap forward, people should celebrate it. The world will be better when every country is stepping up to play a leading role in fighting the climate change.

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