China helps lead the way in tackling climate change

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Leaders Summit on Climate via video link and delivers a speech titled "For Man and Nature: Building a Community of Life Together" from Beijing. Picture: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Leaders Summit on Climate via video link and delivers a speech titled "For Man and Nature: Building a Community of Life Together" from Beijing. Picture: Xinhua

Published May 5, 2021


The recent fire in Cape Town once again brought to our attention the serious challenge of our times: climate change.

Internationally, we have seen wildfires in the United States, Australia, France and Chile and all of these have had climate change as a major factor.

Two years ago already, journalist Marvin Charles wrote in the Cape Argus that “experts have warned that climate change and the rise of temperatures will see Cape Town experience its worst fire season.”

The article, titled “Cape faces fire catastrophe as experts fear city’s worst fire season lies ahead”, quoted UCT climate scientist Peter Johnson as saying that our summers were getting drier and hotter and coupled with a lack of rain this could only create conditions for devastating wild-fires.

Last week’s fire in Cape Town comes on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the drought that the city and other parts of the country have experienced over the last decade. Indeed, drought too can be pointed in the climate change direction.

Yet climate change is the responsibility of all of humanity and world powers themselves must take the lead. Middle powers such as South Africa should also be able to lead by example in ensuring that it balances developmental demands, on the one hand, with a secure future for the planet on the other.

After a devastating four years of Donald Trump in the White House, the Joe Biden administration is trying to catch up with China on climate change.

Biden called an international summit of world leaders recently to discuss the issue and President Cyril Ramaphosa also attended.

Yet China was able to lead once again. Instead of trying to make amends as the US was attempting to do and making promises about carbon emission targets, the most populous nation on earth could deliver a progress report which could only serve as a wish list for environmentalists in the West.

President Xi Jinping reported that in 2009, at the Copenhagen Summit, China set a target of non-fossil energy consumption at 15% by 2020 and a 40 to 45% reduction of carbon intensity compared to its carbon intensity of 2005.

In 2019, a year before its deadline, China recorded a 15.3% non-fossil energy consumption rate and a 48.1% reduction of carbon intensity compared to its 2005 levels. In other words, as the most industrialised nation on earth, China was beating its targets in climate change.

President Xi Jinping went on to state that “during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) period, we will strictly control the growth of coal consumption and gradually curb the consumption during the 15th Five-Year Plan period.”

On my departure from Beijing last year, tremendous efforts by the Chinese government to protect the environment were well under way and had become among the priorities of municipal governments. Special emphasis was placed on air pollution which has long characterised the skyline of major cities such as Beijing.

However, at the forefront of these environmental programmes and policies has been President Xi Jinping himself. For example, the president led the bold move in 2016 already to halt all future large economic development projects along the Yangtze River, China’s longest river.

In 2019, he insisted that his flagship, the Belt and Road Initiative, must be green and environmentally sustainable.

It is consoling that a leading nation such as China is taking the lead in fighting the challenge of climate change.

The Chinese themselves say more must be done and they are willing to do it, as their record has proven. Whereas the developed nations of the world are trailing behind, China shows us that respect and protection of the environment can be balanced with sustainable development.

* Wesley Seale has a PhD in Chinese foreign policy.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.