By Frank Ching
The successful conclusion of the United Nations conference on climate change, which brought representatives of almost 200 countries to Paris, is an epochal event in mankind’s attempt to overcome the global warming threat besetting the world.
While the agreement on Saturday was but one in a series of necessary steps, it was a huge step forward, with the world’s countries coming together, big and small, rich and poor, all realizing that they were in the same boat and, hence, all willing to assume responsibility for slowing and then capping their greenhouse gas emissions and/or providing funds to allow the least developed countries to acquire technology to do so. To a very large extent, this agreement was made possible because of the willingness of the United States and China to cooperate on an issue where their interests clearly coincide. So, despite differences over the South China Sea, cybersecurity and a host of other issues, the world’s two biggest powers, in constant competition for influence around the world, set aside their differences to confront the common threat of climate change. This was markedly different from what happened in 2009, when Barack Obama attended the climate change conference in Copenhagen, only to find China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, reluctant to make any commitments while lower-level Chinese officials insisted that the United States and other developed countries compensate China for having created the climate problem in the first place. But by November 2014, all this had changed. When Obama visited Beijing to attend an APEC meeting, he held talks with President Xi Jinping, which resulted in an unexpected joint announcement on climate change, whose opening words were: “The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have a critical role to play in combating global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity. The seriousness of the challenge calls upon the two sides to work constructively together for the common good.” The two leaders made public their plans for “their respective post-2020 actions on climate change.” Significantly, they indicated that those plans were not final but declared that “both sides intend to continue to work to increase ambition over time.” The U.S. and China also announced that they were “committed to reaching an ambitious 2015 agreement that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” These were exactly the principles that guided the participants in the Paris conference, including an agreement to review and improve upon commitments every five years. The two leaders made clear that the purpose of their bilateral announcement was to “inject momentum into the global climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward with ambitious actions.”