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Redoubled efforts imperative

2022-11-03Source: CHINA DAILY



Greater actions needed to avert the risks and impacts of intensifying global heating and ecological destruction

The intensifying impacts of the climate crisis and its tragic human costs are evident in every region of the world. The science is clear: we are running out of time to preserve a stable climate. At the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Egypt in November, world leaders must accelerate actions to reverse the continuing increases in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avert the escalating threats to the future of humanity.

Global economic growth has undoubtedly produced enormous progress for hundreds of millions of people in both developed and developing countries. A major factor has been the historic achievement of China in lifting some 800 million people out of abject poverty and building a successful, productive economy. But this progress has been achieved at high environmental cost and is now vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation and global heating.

The most fundamental challenge to the future of humanity is restoring a safe and productive balance between the economy and nature. Young people across the world increasingly understand that the present path of development in the world is leading to catastrophe and that it is also unfair, failing to achieve an equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of globalization and economic growth.

In the face of accelerating climate change, governments across the world have now debated for almost 30 years on how to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in 26 Conferences of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But, over this period, the greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased by around 70 percent. And, while IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) calls for emissions to be halved by 2030 — in only seven years — to maintain a chance of limiting global average temperature rise to the relatively safe level of 1.5 C, the current plans of corporate and national fossil fuel producers could lead to further substantial increases in consumption for many years ahead.

The climate change crisis is intimately linked to the extensive ecological destruction which now drives migration and threatens economic progress and peace. As phrased by Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, "The human-made crisis engulfing the natural world is just as threatening, perhaps even more so, than the climate crisis." Chinese leadership of the UN Biodiversity Summit in December offers a unique opportunity to stimulate actions on the essentially connected climate and biodiversity crises.

As we have failed to cut emissions, the world remains on a path toward disastrous temperature increase of more than 2.4 C, even with the full implementation of targets agreed for 2030, and of at least 2.7 C based on the current policies. The extreme events which we see today are driven by a rise of 1.2 C since pre-industrial times: we are right therefore to fear that a rise of 2.4 C or more will have catastrophic consequences, especially for the poor who are least responsible for the climate changes.

Strong climate action is even more urgent because the interactive, dynamic systems which drive the global climate will behave in non-linear ways, both separately and together. There is now intense concern in the scientific and expert communities that rising anthropogenic emissions are pushing these systems beyond critical thresholds, triggering "positive feedback loops" which will provoke sudden shocks and drive irreversible "runaway" climate change, beyond human influence.

We can still avoid such dangerous outcomes. We have had, for many years, the understanding, the technological solutions and the resources needed to achieve a rapid transition to a safer, more sustainable path for the future of humanity. There is a remarkable opportunity to mitigate emerging threats and to create the new green economies and employment of the future — but time is short. In any case, the costs of action will be immeasurably less than the human and civilizational costs of inaction.

To achieve a just transition to a low-carbon, equitable and sustainable world, policies, management and institutions must be framed around five realities: The current processes of international negotiation must be revised; deep structural changes are required in economic, energy and financial systems to correct the causes, not the symptoms of the environmental crisis; economic and finance policies must now be framed to respect and include the environmental facets of policy in integrated strategies for sustainable progress; corrective action must engage the full world community and must be founded on climate justice, solidarity and human rights; public support must be mobilized for strong climate action to overcome the ideological and commercial vested interests which obstruct essential change.

The human, social, economic and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the intensifying impacts of climate change, have created a radically new global situation, now compounded by the conflict in Ukraine and by major on-going shifts in the geopolitical landscape. We will not be able to master the multiple crises of the 21st century with the entrenched models and methodologies of the 20th century.

We are at a turning point in human affairs, as was the case following World War I and II. World leaders were then able to implement major transformations of policies and institutions to advance economic progress and to avert the risks of further conflict. We need a similar degree of vision, statesmanship and institutional innovation today.

Over four decades of reform and development, since proposing the Four Modernizations in 1978, China's policy priorities have evolved from a focus on growth and employment in the 1980s to a broader view of an all-round xiaokang prosperous society, and now toward the current goal, defined by President Xi Jinping, of an ecological civilization.

In particular, Chinese environmental policies have evolved remarkably. A key step in 1992 was the establishment of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, which mobilizes national and international expertise in science and policy across the world to provide regular advice to the leadership of China on strategies and measures to achieve sustainable development.

The Chinese leadership has taken strong and sustained measures to reduce the country's dependence on coal and to promote emissions reduction and sustainable development. But China still accounts for more than half of global demand for coal which supplies around 56 percent of China's power and employs millions.

To avert the risks and impacts of intensifying global heating on China itself and on the wider world, China will have to cut its emissions faster and accelerate its current plan to achieve net-zero by 2060.

China can play a crucial role in the next phase of efforts by the international community to master the existential threats of climate destabilization and to achieve sustainable and equitable development, through four transformations:

First, accelerating the restructuring of its national economic and energy systems to cut its emissions more rapidly. Second, promoting shifts in domestic consumption and behavior to reduce resource exploitation, energy use, pollution and waste. Third, supporting developing countries in their efforts to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change through finance, technology and expertise. Fourth, participating in cooperative global leadership to contain the overarching climate crisis and to build a fair, peaceful and sustainable world.

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