Sun Tzu says…

One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

China can now add another feat to their long list of illustrious achievements – first-time host of a United Nations climate change talks. The country is going from strength to strength as a global leader on this topic. However, as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it has not escaped intense international scrutiny. To its credit, China certainly has not been standing idle. Complementing its cutting edge green technology is a promise to cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45% from 2005 levels. The country is also planning an international carbon trade center based in Beijing and has begun an ambitious ‘Green Wall,’ a 2,800 mile of forest belt spanning the breadth of the country.

But is China doing enough?

Based on delegate sentiments during the Tianjin opening plenary, the answer would be ‘no.’ Take on more responsibility, do more to reduce your emissions was the message. Amidst such calls to act in the spirit of international solidarity, the reply from China is loud and clear: we are acting, but on our own terms and in our own time. For China, this means continuing to prioritize economic development, while also being a “responsible developing country.” These two positions neatly embody the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

But it is clear China needs more action. In a visually arresting series of video clips, the Asia Society revealed dramatic landscape changes in China during the last decade due to alarming glacier melt. More disturbing was the impact of this had on local communities and indigenous people:

  • water shortages as normal supply turns undrinkable
  • delayed planting and harvesting seasons
  • reduced livestock as calves are birthed much later in the season

Local confidence in traditional knowledge and land management practices is slowly being replaced by uncertainty. This in turn is leading to increased doubts over their security; their identity; and their future. Instead of blaming others, some local communities and indigenous people believe themselves to be at fault. Caught in a cycle of hopelessness, for many the only solution is to offer prayers of penance and deliverance to the gods.

Of course the solutions to climate change do not lie with China alone. While the international community spars and parries over brackets, texts, commitments, and pledges, let us remember that it is the people most dependent and connected to the land that are shouldering the real burden.

Celina Yong, RECOFTC

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