EVENT TRANSCRIPT: China and the Countdown to COP26
DATE: 7 June, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
SPEAKERS: Geraint Davies MP, Dr Heidi Wang-Kaeding, Dr Sam Geall
EVENT MODERATOR: Gray Sergeant
Gray Sergeant 00:00
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the Henry Jackson Society’s event, China and the Countdown to COP26. My name is Gray Sergeant. I’m a research fellow here at the Asian Studies Center. Bit of background to today’s event, we all know that Britain will be hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in November, up in Glasgow. And the topic has got some interest in the past couple of months when it was speculated that China wouldn’t play ball if Britain and its allies continued to speak about human rights issues that China deemed sensitive. And that kind of got me thinking about the extent to which China is committed to environmental improvements and engaging with the rest of the world on issues like climate change. After all, it was only a year or so ago, that you know, China was claiming to take the mantle of tackling climate change at the time when Trump was in the White House and pulling out of the Paris accords. And such and that China clearly benefited and gained a lot of soft power and influence and credibility for being a positive wild player from his engagement in environmental diplomacy. So wouldn’t really want to throw it all away and not played ball when it comes to COP26. And one of the great things about being in this role at Henry Jackson Society is it gives me the opportunity to actually get some of the leading voices, the experts, the people, the ideas roundtable to discuss these issues. And so very pleased to have with us today, Geraint Davies, the Labour MP for Swansea West is the chair of the All Party parliamentary group on air pollution and is also a regular contributor in Parliament, the debate about China and the West and Britain’s relations with that we have Dr Heidi Want-Kaeding from the University of Keele, where she lectures in international relations. work focuses on Chinese green diplomacy, and her latest book published where rootlet religion is China’s environmental foreign relations. And lastly, we have Sam Geall, who is the acting CEO of China Dialogue, non-profit based here in UK and Beijing, that tries to exchange information and understanding between China and the English-speaking world on issues to do with the environment. He’s also editor and contributor of the book China and the environment, the Green Revolution. So, before I kick off with Heidi, who will be our first speaker, just to remind you that there is a Q&A box, which you can click on and contribute to the debate. If you ask your question, between now and the closing remarks of our last speaker, we’ll start selecting people to come and speak and you can ask your questions to the speakers or if you prefer, and you’d like to remain anonymous, I can always read out your message that way. So, without further ado, Heidi, if you could perhaps kick us off and start the conversation going by discussing what does China hope to achieve with its environmental diplomacy? How does it do it and why?
Dr Heidi Wang-Kaeding 03:18
Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. I’m Heidi Wang-Kaeding, a lecturer in International Relations at Keele University. Many thanks to Gray for inviting me to this very important conversation about China’s role in COP26. I recently published a book entitled China’s Environmental Foreign Relations. So this is the book, my publisher will be happy to see it. And so, my main argument in this book is that Chinese interest groups negotiation with the regime decides the degree to which China as a state committed to environmental treaties, shapes form of of bilateral cooperation and also gives meaning to an alternative norm, the so called ecological civilization. And even though climate change is not included, as a case study in this book, I hope my findings would make timely intervention to the current discussion and framing of China’s role in COP26 and global climate politics in general. So, in the next couple of minutes, I will present some of the myths which populate media coverage. And also, I tried to present some hypothesis to be tested in the case of climate change, rather than providing ultimate speculation. So the first myth is that the international community and foreign governments need to appease the Chinese government to get China on board in global climate governance. The reasoning behind this myth is the sheer size and impact of China’s carbon emission whereas the significance of China is appreciated. This statement fails to acknowledge the domestic motivation which drives the ruling Communist Party to make international commitment domestic debate of climate change as has already shifted from a scientific debate to a political debate back in 1990s. It is in the interest of the ruling elites in China to urgently address climate crisis and also mitigate its adverse impact. For instance, China faces significant threats and very vulnerable. From a sea level rise, Shanghai is declared as the most vulnerable city in the world to serious flooding. So, a three degree temperature increase would wipe out this Metropolis and financial hub of China, the ruling elites in China fully aware of this climate risk. In order to maintain the domestic legitimacy ignoring climate risk is simply not an option for the Chinese government. Failure to address climate risk undermines the control of CCP and the economic prosperity promised to its population. Now, the recognition of the linkage between climate change and the dissonant the diplomacy of the CCP helps us refute the second myth, which is the Chinese government can hold the international community hostage by imposing conditions on climate negotiation. So, this is this statement extrapolates the Chinese government’s behaviour and pressure in economic statecraft, to the domain of Global climate politics. The blurb of today’s event also highlights the conditionality of Chinese cooperation on climate change include, which includes a silence on human rights at using Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Yet, if you look back to the history of China’s environmental diplomacy, the tactic linkage between human rights and environmental issues, has also been deployed and used by the Chinese government. The notion of environmental diplomacy is elevated to the diplomatic and political agenda in the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown, Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. So, the economic sanctions imposed by the US its allies, the internet and the international community, push the Chinese government into utilizing environmental issues to build a positive image internationally. environmental issues are used as an icebreaker issue to reconnect China with the rest of the world. In other words, pressure on human rights violation has provided normative and moral incentives for the Chinese government to perform even better in the global environmental regime. So, in other words, human rights and climate change are not dichotomy and competing issues fighting for our attention, they are artificially pitted against each other as a diplomatic performance. Now, international pressure still matters because the Chinese government also needs the outside world to actualize national leaders’ ambitious pledges, and it is a question of how international pressure can hold the Chinese government accountable to its pledges and international commitment. We need to look out for to the implementation and standard setting to make an informed judgment and assessment of China’s role in global climate governance. As in my book, I compare the treaty implementation between the Montreal Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity. And I find that interest groups are key in the compliance of international treaties, and they can mobilize nationalistic discourse to offset the international commitment pledged by national leaders. In the case of 2016 carbon neutrality target, we also need to look at Chinese non state actors like tech giants. According to Greenpeace and North China Electric Power University. China’s data centers use 2% of the country’s total power consumption in 2018. So how to implement carbon emission reductions by China’s internet forms require action plan and resources. Moreover, they need to benchmark their behaviours against the greenhouse gas protocol. Even though Chinese companies, be it state owned enterprises or private companies, they vow to follow seedings vision to reduce carbon emission. their commitment is not against the standardization provided by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. According to China Dialogue’s report. The protocol outlined the scope three standard which includes both upstream and downstream of their operations, and also effectors indirect emissions in a company’s value chain is more comprehensive. The environmental standard could be a stake as financiers such as the Asian investment infrastructure bank, alternative sources of funding. So regardless of the presence of the Chinese delegation at COP26, we need to closely monitor those financiers’ stance on environmental standards, and how they align their practices with the internationally recognized benchmarks which include efforts of both state and non-state actors. To sum up, I tried to establish some of my hypothesis and highlight the two arguments for you to think about. First, the Chinese government has innate motivation to actively tackle climate change and cannot take the international community hostage. Second, climate change is an existential threat to the very legitimacy of the CCP. So therefore, we highlight the domestic source of motivation for climate change action. So that’s all my presentation. And thank you for your attention.
Gray Sergeant 10:30
Thank you, Heidi, very clear. Last couple of arguments there, which I think helped answer the question that I originally had in my mind. The next speaker is Sam. Does that align with the way that you see China’s foreign policy? And how does this perhaps innate desire to actually tackle climate change feed into Chinese behaviour when it comes to the run up to COP26?
Dr Sam Geall 10:57
Thank you very much, thanks for the invitation. And it’s very difficult to follow such an excellent presentation I do mostly agree with Heidi’s thesis there. You know, we’re at a very critical moment, five years since the Paris Agreement came into effect, at the moment when there needs to be a so called Global stock take, where we see where countries are, and try to ratchet up ambition towards the 1.5 degree target, the target, and the agreements at the Paris to vote for governments to commit to two degrees at least. And to aim for 1.5 degrees was unprecedented, that level of kind of historic consensus, and that was in no small part, thanks to the relationship between China and the United States. That, of course, is broke up between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. And, of course, also to a real change in the in the real economy that underlay that, and I think that’s, you know, particularly the falling cost of renewable energy, that also has a lot to do with the increasing strength of China’s own renewable energy industry, and the ways that that has brought down the price of clean technologies very dramatically. And so, you know, in this sort of moment of the run up to the now delayed cop, 26, there’s been a lot of, understandably, sort of watching of what’s happening with these two key players, the United States, which, of course, you know, has signalled that it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement under President Trump and is now back in. And of course, Biden, you know, has recently done this summit with world leaders on in April. And China together accounted for some 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And the most significant statement is the one that Heidi mentioned, which was Xi Jinping’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September to achieve carbon neutrality before 2016. And I think this is really a major pledge. I think it’s big. I mean, it really is significant. It shifts our long-term projections of global temperature rise. Climate Action Tracker found that this commitment alone lowered global warming projections by point to point 0.3 degrees Celsius, that’s the largest single changes recorded from any individual kind of action. And I think it’s significant because it was unilateral. Because Xi Jinping was making the speech alone on the on the world stage at the UN, sort of going head to head with Donald Trump, in fact, with that speech, meaning that it has a geopolitical significance, and that it’s part of Xi Jinping’s sort of political legacy and his sort of signature leadership rounds associated with as Heidi mentioned, you know, the ecological civilization vision as well, that’s also become a big part of Xi Jinping’s particular sort of distinctive buzzwords. And I think it’s significant because it seems to have even caught Chinese bureaucrats by surprise, as far as I can tell, they weren’t it wasn’t something that was widely expected, but was very quickly fleshed out. So, you could see it sending a sort of policy signal through the bureaucracy, and indeed a market signal. As Heidi mentioned, you can see that companies then need to start thinking, Okay, how do we actually fit with this large overarching goal? We saw shortly after the announcements, a group of researchers at Tsing Hua university setting out a roadmap to 2016 included, a higher share of a non-fossil fuels and primary energy consumption, an annual carbon emissions cap and a much enhanced kind of decarbonisation measures, essentially, you know, needing the total triplication of power by mid-century all of that coming from renewables and the coal fleet being wound down. So clearly, a very significant kind of effort, and one that seems to be driven by China’s leadership. And I also agree with, with Heidi, that I think most of this, you really have to associate with strong domestic drivers. This comes shortly after, one of many acknowledgments of China’s own vulnerability to climate change, specifically, in this case, the enormous flooding that caused billions of dollars of damage and the Yangtze River Basin last year. But, you know, also just looking at some of the other major domestic drivers, we have an aggressive low carbon industrial policy, embedded in the five-year plans over the last, you know, decade or two, positioning China as the leading global supplier of clean technologies for carbon constrained worlds. And, finding enormous political economic benefit from the expansion of those industries. And using that shift away from polluting and energy intensive industries to move the economy up the value chain, towards innovation and services and to restructure state owned enterprises. So, we see kind of an alignment between, I think, top down political and economic goals, the party legitimacy goals that Heidi to be seen, to act on issues of public concern and indeed, air pollution as well. And they did the strong admission of climate vulnerabilities and the extent to which actually, this sort of environmental crisis also needs to be dealt with, because there is also a soft power benefit. But I think this has been overstated. I think there are different ways that the case has been made around whether cooperating with China in the UN process on the road could be a misstep. I think there is a there’s a, you know, rather lazy version of it, which is just to say, China’s commitments, you know, aren’t really worth anything, or to suggest that China is not really doing anything on climate change. And I think that’s easily sort of disproven and a little more than an excuse for domestic climate and action. But there is this more sophisticated argument that has taken on a greater momentum, which I do think is worthy of consideration, at least, which is the suggestion that seeking corporate cooperation with China puts other countries in a position of weakness in signals that climate discussions are contingent on concessions in other domains. But I do agree with Heidi, that this is a weak basis for future climate diplomacy. I think China does make a lot of Chinese government, the Chinese government up points makes rhetorical statements to that effect. But I think there’s little evidence that climate actions are actually predicated on those kinds of concessions. You know, we can see that since taking our first the Biden administration, has continued to challenge China’s activities in the South China Sea to renew that security commitments to Taiwan, it stepped up sanctions over Xinjiang, yet, China hasn’t actually stopped. Its participation in on the climate change front. In fact, it you know, China met with the US climate envoy, John Kerry in Shanghai in in in April, and put together a statement that actually suggested international coordination is seeing China expressing its climate commitments in more assertive terms than previously. The statement in particular included references to fossil fuels as carbon intensive to climate change as a climate crisis, both characterizations that hadn’t been used before in Chinese official documents. We also saw ahead of the Climate Leaders’ Summit, President Xi indicating that China would accept the Kigali agreement to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production of climate warming refrigerants. And that was in a video summit with Macron and Merkel. At a point when, of course, relations with the EU are also as rocky as ever. And after, you know, the EU has been engaged in a very bitter sanctions row with China over Xinjiang. And indeed, the the, you know, freshly negotiated, investment treaty seems to have gone into deep freeze. So, all of this, to me suggests that China’s commitment to climate action is motivated primarily by national self-interest and that the coordination over this still has room to be kept on the table and I believe that it really needs to be. My strong belief is that climate change as an issue of human survival, that doesn’t care for national borders, is something on the order of nuclear non-proliferation or pandemic disease and requires global coordination, even when geopolitical antagonism rises. In fact, you know, specifically in those contexts of rising geopolitical tension as you think that kind of international leadership and solidarity is more necessary than ever. And it’s the solidarity point I think I actually would like to kind of end on, which is to say that I think there also is a strong reason to adjust one’s kind of climate diplomatic strategy in this moment, not to sort of be seen to finger point of China, which is specifically that actually, you know, really getting the right positioning before a COP26 requires showing enormous extension of solidarity towards the least developed countries and the climate vulnerable countries in particular. Now, I think this is important morally in terms of the historic responsibility that rich countries have to those poorest countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But I also think it’s important strategically, because if we don’t actually take that position, it really allows China to step into the role of the defender of the of the poor countries at the talks and actually really stops them from being any kind of realignment which would allow, for example, a kind of a more cooperative, joint ambitious stance, with China on reducing emissions. So, I’ll leave it there.
Gray Sergeant 21:10
Thanks. Thank you, Sam. And I’ve just got one question in the Q&A box, I shall remind people, and that will be into the Q&A after current speech. So, if you could start putting your questions in, we can then have them answered by the speakers. I really wanted to bring somebody in from parliament, because it was I think, Ian Duncan Smith, who raised this point that he heard a lot of talk about climate change in that constraining UK diplomats, and how assertive they were going to be on other issues. I think we’ve discussed already how China has deployed that in the past, but it’s not necessarily the most effective argument they can make. But I just want to get a feel of how does Parliament feel about this? And where are the views within parliament of whether or not we should, you know, cooperate with China or have perhaps in friendly competition where we try and outdo each other on often to the environment. And I know that you’ve spoken previously about issues such as the carbon tax. So, I’d very much like to hear your thoughts about the way forward for us.
Geraint Davies MP 22:18
Thank you very much. I’m Geraint Davis, and as we mentioned, I chair the All Party group on air pollution, which is sort of relevant to this because something over 7 million people die from air pollution. But I’m also vice chair of the All Party China group was particular responsibility for Environment and Climate Change, and sit on the Africa committee. So just to sort of bring us back to basics if you like, I think it’s worth remembering in terms of the climate crisis. So, emissions since Kyoto 1990 have grown by 60%. We agreed in Paris, so we tried to keep down the increase by 1.5 degrees. But in fact, this is the 1850 level. In fact, there’s already 1.2 degrees and rising at naught point one degree year. So, at the current trend, we’re likely to breach the Paris commitment by 2025. And in fact, the increases in temperature over Europe are higher or already the max instead of 1.5 degrees is two degrees over Europe, in fact, three degrees over the Arctic. And what this in practice means is that in as we speak today, every second, 8,500 tons of ice is melting every second in Greenland as 1 trillion times in the past four years, 4 trillion and since 1993, so we really are accelerating at a phenomenal rate, in terms of sea level rises, land loss, food loss, migration, and war, and 28% of emissions are from China. Now that’s more than the EU and US put together so us 16% EU 10%. And then when you add in India, at seven, Russia of five, you get the five biggest countries have got two thirds, 64% of these nations, and it’s simply getting out of control. I mean, the first bit of good news, of course, is that Trump is no longer, you know, causing climate change. And Biden is, you know, basically leading the US and that can put a fresh light on what’s happening in terms of China because the Belt and Road initiative by way of example, is generating extra 300 new coal fired power stations. That’s all very well saying that China is investing very heavily in renewables. It is, and I very much welcome that. But they’ve got over half the world’s coal fired production. And it’s causing a bit of a problem in terms of climate change in terms of the amount of emissions tonnes per head, we’re now in a situation where the UK is at 5.5 tonnes per head. And, in fact, China’s up to seven. So, they’re producing more in China than we do. In the UK. I think this is slightly unfair in a way because obviously we’ve greened our energy, and we’ve outsourced our manufacturing. So, if you actually counted the UK in terms of consumption, while in production, we’d be at eight. And so, there underlines the case, the imperative, I would say, for COP26 and beyond, to factor in carbon pricing into all trade deals, in order to incentivize people out of countries to produce, you know, greener, greener products and accelerate away from a climate disaster that is really very much on our doorstep is simply China in nutshell, as China’s said, and we just heard from the last speaker that, they will not be net zero by the way, but carbon neutral by 2060. Net zero is a different thing that is carbon neutral being that they’ll offset any carbon they will produce, as opposed to that won’t produce carbon, but it by 2060. Well, in terms of the demos I’ve just been given the date ranges I’ve been talking about, namely the 2025. That’s not soon enough. And what’s more, the Chinese are saying they will peak production at 2030. And one of the deficiencies of the Paris Agreement was that they didn’t price in carbon. So, we’ve got these countries have got richness in, in coal in particular. And so pretty much China, India, and Australia, who, incidentally is the highest carbon per person is 17.5 tonnes per person, have an incentive to sort of keep on burning coal, which they are and, and so China now has got an incentive to keep on burning more and more coal until 2030. Well, it simply isn’t sustainable. And I know there’s a conversation about are they going to use now or they’re going to get upset about what that’s happening in terms of human rights abuses and democracy in Hong Kong and play this, I’m sure they will, about, you know, our imperative really, is to build these imperatives in terms of carbon into our trade agreements, and just get on with it. I sit on the Council of Europe, which basically stands up for human rights rule of law and democracy. And I’m pushing through it actually a resolution saying that no new trade agreements should embrace those values plus sustainability. And we are beginning from the EU to see some evidence that they are pushing forward on these agendas. Certainly, we’re not in the EU anymore. Meanwhile, on the Chinese side, obviously, they’ve brokered the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is 2.2 billion people, 30% of the world’s output. Not a lot about the environment in that. Alongside that we’ve got the Transpacific Partnership. And there are some environmental standards creeping into that. And more promising and I know, Sam rightly said, it’s been put on ice, but was the comprehensive agreement on investment between China and Europe. And of course, Europe is a bit more serious about these issues, in terms of sustainability, transparency, non-discrimination, access to markets, actually compliance with Paris, as well as human rights, and we should be, you know, on pushing forward that agenda in COP26, because China in these negotiations has been agreeing to implement the Paris Agreement, and is over it, you know, and this has got to be done in practice, not in words, as I’ve been trying to say, and it has said it will comply with the organization. Can the International Labour Organization conventions including forced labour, the other thing obviously, we’re concerned about is the abuse of Uighur Muslims and forced labour and this thing, obviously, we can’t tolerate that. And there’s a lot of progress on that on state-to-state dispute resolution as well. So that’s good news. Meanwhile, of course, the EU are considering a carbon adjustment and border tax, the imports coming in, can be taxed so that they fulfil the same regulatory regime as domestic production. Because otherwise you’ve got a situation as we have in Britain where we basically closed down Steel Works or whatever it is in order that is burned to more dirt to leave abroad in particular, in China. Well, know that we share the same world that Shouldn’t be permissible. And again, the EU are taking a welcome leaders great sign as we’re not part of the EU, they’re also pushing forward on this sustainable finance disclosure regulations. Because pension funds and pensioners and other asset managers should know that they may face some stranded assets, fossil fuel risks, as well as human rights risks, and people should, it should be transparent. And again, hopefully, this will actually turn down the, you know, the financial flows from the City of London and elsewhere into dirty production, including in from China, obviously, China is, is funding, obviously, its own coal fire stations, as I’ve mentioned earlier, so it’s important that we continue again in COP26, dance environment, social and governance route. And in terms of, finally, what are we therefore saying for COP26 is basically the world isn’t taking this seriously enough, the growth in China isn’t sustainable It’s all very well saying, the US grew in the past, etc, then nearly 30% of total production 2016 isn’t soon enough. And we need to act unilaterally and obviously, collectively, to have trade deals to factor in a price in, in, in carbon, and obviously, is being hosted by the UK. So, this is a great opportunity for the UK to show some leadership. But of course, the UK has become a lot weaker, thanks to Brexit. Because we’re standing alone, we’re not part of the team EU negotiating with big players like the US or with China. And we’ve just seen in the G7, where Biden came forward alongside all the other G7 countries with an idea of a 21% corporation tax for Amazon and Google, Facebook and alike. And it was watered down to 15% by the British, presumably by a bit of arm twisting outside the room. So, it is concerning. We do need to act. And all our futures depend on this. And China, to be fair, has done a lot. But it does need to do a great deal more if we’re going to be sustainable. And this is partly a negotiation, but partly ultimately, a saying this is the deal, and getting on with it. And it may mean that economies suffer in terms of prices and the like. But I mean, the stakes are high. This we’re talking about everybody’s future. We just got to get on with it. Thank you.
Gray Sergeant 32:33
Thank you, Geraint. That was very, very action packed speech, lots of suggestions on things that we can do. And certainly, like, many, many things, lead from the Europeans that perhaps we could follow. In respect to climate change. There were a few questions on the Q&A, a couple of rude ones, if we did keep any remarks polite, otherwise, I won’t be reading them out. A few have been pointed out to me. I had a few questions myself, I saw some of the speakers jotting down notes. And so I’ll give them a chance to respond to each other. But the first one here is wondering what the level of understanding or support for measures to tackle climate change amongst the wider Chinese population. And that kind of fell into one of the questions I had about who are these domestic interest groups that are driving this policy? And then there’s a couple of questions about the extent to which I think Sam has already touched on a little bit that China is producing these new, clean technologies, but still quite heavily reliant on coal. Just wondering if the panel had any thoughts on what is the trend here? Is there a trend away from coal? Or is their usage sort of be maintained? And I thought, while you were speaking, that you have this demand versus domestic interests and drivers are, and obviously the balance that any governments can have to have with industry and energy needs, and how these different groups compete within China. And then I think perhaps the second one about Pakistan, links to the point that Geraint was making about the Belt and Road. I think that is probably it for the question so far. So, if anybody else has any more questions, please do put them in the Q&A. Otherwise, we’ll throw it back to Heidi to deal with some issues that have come up.
Dr Heidi Wang-Kaeding 34:44
Great, thank you. Thank you Sam and Geraint for these excellent remarks. In terms of domestic support for climate change, I think I can answer in two perspectives. The first one is the promotion of climate change domestically from top down. So as Sam has mentioned, ecological civilization as a term has been really important in also educating the domestic public in cultivating the environmental awareness, and also to translate that awareness into concrete action. So, if you look closely on the everyday experience of people living in China, you can already see some efforts from top down. So for instance, recycling, it’s already intertwined into everyday a rubric. But that has been very much implemented from top down rather than bottom up, there are efforts from civil society groups to promote this agenda and get it more widely implemented. But the most effective drive is still a very much coercive measure from the central government to trickling down to local governments. So, the second way to answer this question is the importance of civil society actors so they can really help compensate the lack of manpower and resources of local governments and can also start very meaningful local initiatives to make sure climate change is not only high politics it requires everyday participation of every ordinary citizen. So I think the space for civil society groups is still very much important in the implementation of climate change targets, and also in the everyday behaviour of how to collectively tackle climate crisis. So I will pass the floor to Geraint and Sam for the other questions.
Dr Sam Geall 36:41
Thanks. Yeah. So on the question about clean technology, I mean, I guess the basic response would be to say, Well, you know, you can look at the numbers. And you can see that, you know, China has become the largest investor in renewable energy in the world, the largest producer of solar PV modules and wind turbines, has the largest deployment every year by launch, you know, but by actually more than every other country that together typically, you know, continues to exceed its, its targets every year on renewable energy deployment. When it gets more into the R&D, the share of R&D as a percentage of GDP is growing while it’s while it’s falling in Europe, and the United States. If you look at the sort of advanced papers and patents and so on, there’s a lot going on in the renewable energy space as well. There’s a bit of a dip between the advanced patent kind of level stuff and the and the commercialization. That’s actually pretty standard, though, that’s kind of something that people see across innovation systems kind of anywhere in the world. But of course, it’s also true that there is enormous amount of research going on in fossil fuels. And indeed, there are lots of that there’s an extent to which China is both at home and abroad, doing kind of all of the above. Iit’s a very rapid growth, and there is there are still very powerful fossil fuel interests. And I guess the thing I probably should have emphasized more in my initial remarks is that the Chinese government is very far from monolithic. It’s probably best described, I think, as fragmented authoritarianism, right, where you’ve got, a number of different poles of power, and the fragmentation is both vertical and horizontal, that is to say there’s vertical fragmentation between different elite interest groups There’s often, when you look at policymaking in China, protracted bargaining between different lobbies, whether it’s, you know, the coal lobby and renewables, or, indeed different state-owned companies, or between private and state owned companies. And there’s, there’s a significant horizontal fragmentation as well between central and local. And you see that play out all the time, politically, where, for example, new coal fired power plants will be approved at the local level, and then a central level regulator or kind of swoop in and, and cancel them. And again, you get this push and pull of around questions of kind of jobs and sustain and, and social stability, you know, the pressure for tax revenue for local governments and so on is this, you know, it’s big, a lot of the, the growth that we’ve seen in China’s reformer was basically unleashed through quite unprecedented devolution, to the local level. That creates a very powerful collusion between polluters and local governments, that the environmental bureaucracy pushes against the various points, but also isn’t necessarily powerful enough to push against certain points. And so, you get into questions about precisely how the kind of structural alignments are done in order to try and get environmental policy to outweigh, for example, growth at all costs. And that’s, you know, where a lot of the kind of arguments taken place in certain wind, where a lot of the kind of energy in civil society has been, as Heidi mentioned, a lot of the environmental NGOs and so on over the past, you know, decade or two have really sort of mobilized around the idea of trying to push back against the pollute first clean-up later model of growth, I would disagree, maybe or I will put a slightly different, maybe take a slightly different shade of opinion about the role that civil society now plays in China. You know, I certainly have seen very active and, and have a huge amount of respect for the very active environmental civil society that sort of existed in the past decade or so. But that space has really been shrinking in the past, in the past 5-10 years, unfortunately. And the scope for those actors to really sort of affect policy, unfortunately, is less than it once was. But the only other thing, I guess I would mention this, that this, you know, in understanding of that lack of sort of monolithic policymaking is also necessary for really understanding how to tackle the Belt and Road initiative, because I also do not think that that is monolithic, so the master plan is much more an outgrowth of overcapacity in Chinese industry, and the need to create a kind of escape valve for capital to flow into new markets, that, again, has a lot of different actors involved from state insurance companies, to state-owned enterprises, to private enterprises, and so on. And the attempt to regulate it is an evolving set of policies and that there are perfect progressive actors in China, just as there are domestically, overseas looking at how to put in better policy that could, you know, so called green the Belt and Road initiative. And, you know, what I would say to people sort of trying to work internationally with particularly government roles with China, is to try to see where you can strengthen those progressive actors. Because I do think that it’s still possible, I do think that they exist in various sort of sectors and parts of government, who are trying to create better rules and try to create a different vision of how to how to create any no so called ecological civilization.
Gray Sergeant 42:17
Geraint, I saw that you wanted to come in.
Geraint Davies MP 42:19
I’ve got a couple of quick points if I may. And obviously, we need to try and coax in and incentivize China into speeding up it’s greenness as we do all other countries, and obviously, Pakistan has been mentioned, quite reasonably in the commentary that they’ve got a lot of coal. So maybe the, the idea that people sitting on a lot of coal, will therefore, you know, burn it, or if that’s the truth, then we’re all dead aren’t we. So, we do need to provide a sort of incentive system and carbon pricing and trading and consumer awareness, and technology transfer and support for countries moving forward so that they can jump forward in terms of productivity on a sort of green trajectory. Now, of course, these sort of things are easier said than done. But if the rational expectations of Chinese economic planners are that, for example, people in Europe, there are countries in Europe where not only have carbon pricing in their trading agreements, but also carbon awareness amongst consumers, because consumers are going to respond to both price and sentiment, mainly, it’s mainly price, admittedly, but people think, as a choice between a sort of dirty product from further afield, and a cleaner product from local dealt by that so the producers saying, for example, China should respond to that it doesn’t recover. They’re very quick clients. Somebody mentioned I think, in the country, the issue about research into fracking, and indeed, we still got consent for fracking. And in Britain, I mean, in a nutshell, methane produces 80 times more global warming than carbon dioxide. And 5% of methane is lost through fugitive emissions in fracking, according to satellite imagery, which implies the fracking is significantly worse than coal, for global warming. So fracking is something that none of us should want to happen. And it is a mistake in emissions, it causes the ice sheets melt the Siberia and they’re like, we’re heading towards a catastrophic emergence of methane that will massively accelerate global warming. Again, we’ve got this issue with Russia is sort of very dependent on fossil fuels. I mean, clearly, we better if, for example, infrastructure and construction was built out of wood was actually restores carbon and as well as obviously when it’s growing and sold with it, instead of concrete, which if it was a country would be the third biggest emitter of global warming. gases. So again, there’s a strategic opportunity possibly to coach Russia, which has got the biggest landmass available for Greenwood, to begin to shift its focus from fossil fuel to wood. And finally, in terms of the behaviour of China, we know with other examples like stopping Australian wine or stopping Norwegian salmon or, you know, trying to sanction UK MPs that they will pick on individual nations and impose things on them, when they start moaning about human rights and democracy, etc. and our values as another great problem for leaving the EU because of their attack British parliamentarians were part of the EU, there’s a natural move that we all stand together as one as border values. If we’ve left because we think we know best, we’re obviously in a much weaker and weaker position. And we should be aware of that. And then we just need to have stand side by side with Europe when we’re saying these things about trade, but consumers to create an environment that that is in Chinese interest to accelerate towards green technology. And they’re doing a great deal already as Sam has said, but it’s time to sort of turn down that the development of coal, or leave it that I’ve gone too long. Thanks.
Gray Sergeant 46:22
That’s great. Well, we’ve had a couple more questions in the Q&A. Both anonymous, I shall read them out. But perhaps I’ll start with my question that I had. What do we mean by cooperation with China on climate change? Is this about setting encouraging each other to reduce targets? rather have stronger targets that are targets? exchange and learning from each other? Is it you know, sharing technology? And that sort of things? If we talk about going forward and cooperating with China? What does that actually mean? And then to go on to some of the questions from the Q&A box, somebody is querying whether or not we can trust the data that comes out of China in regards to emissions, and then a final one, and predictions are a dangerous game. But they asked that they’ve asked the speakers to reflect on their thoughts on whether or not there’ll be any landmark movements from China or the rest of the world. In COP, so that might be quite a nice question to, to finish up on. So we go back in the order that we started. So, Heidi, would you like us off?
Dr Heidi Wang-Kaeding 47:30
Thank you Gray. In terms of the meaning of cooperation, international cooperation, I want to highlight it is multifaceted, and it involves more actors and players than what the media has predicted. So, in terms of treaty, it means both the ratification and also implication implementation of the treaties, and it involves both multilateral and also bilateral cooperation. China is very keen on a leading bilateral cooperation and also establishing its leadership position in the developing countries and also increasingly in the more developed world, like a global leader. And also, it means to share the urgency with other countries like what Sam has mentioned, and to build solidarity with these developed countries, most countries, which are even more vulnerable than in China to climate crisis. And, and also it is both about state actors and non-state actors, like I mentioned, interest groups in China, transnational actors to to push the agenda forward and materialize into corporate action and action plans. And, and in terms of data, I think I’m not following as closely as Sam but I think there is incentive for the Chinese environmental bureaucracy to record data as much as possible so they can monitor closely. And also, you need to triangulate the data from official sources to other academic institutions, etc. And in terms of prediction, and I think it is very costly for the Chinese government to not commit to the COP26 conference, and also the agreement. Because as you have mentioned, I think Geraint has also mentioned that China has been very keen to present itself as a leader and to implement Paris agreement so that the Chinese government has to come up with a very strong counter narrative of why this non commitment suddenly becomes reality.
Gray Sergeant 49:36
Thanks Heidi, Sam.
Dr Sam Geall 49:41
Thank you very much. And, yeah, to start on, what what’s cooperation, I suppose it’s, it’s all of the things you mentioned, you know, it’s about jointly ratcheting up ambition on targets. It’s, you know, should be active technical cooperation on things like clean energy technologies, it should be trust building, as well, in the context of kind of growing geopolitical tension, as I mentioned, I think there is an analogy to nuclear non-proliferation and other sorts of channels that we, you know, believe in keeping open even when geopolitical sort of antagonism grows, because this is an issue of planetary survival. And I think as a result, kind of even quite small technical cooperation is often important, just as, as something to keep on the table, and to not trade off against other political issues. On and I guess I would mention that isn’t to say that cooperation is mutually exclusive, where competition, I think there should be competition on climate change as well. I don’t think it’s the same as protectionism. But I do think that, you know, countries should compete to outdo China, run it on innovation, we should be absolutely investing in, in national R&D systems to, to try to compete on clean tech, I do think that we should be competing on deployment, you know, I think we should be competing on solidarity as well, and showing that, you know, we can offer, you know, great renewable energy schemes in our overseas development aid. And so, you know, these sorts of things, I think, are really important as well, on data, I think it’s, it’s, it really differs across different sort of sectors and science and, and even, you know, specific types of pollutants. So, for example, soil pollution data in China is, is extremely opaque still, and, you know, often regarded state secret, very difficult to get reliable information on. But by contrast, air pollution data is extremely available, actually, as much as it is here or more in real time, largely, actually, thanks to civil society efforts, sort of about a decade ago, there was a really big push for the release of real time data on particularly PM 2.5, this new smallest measure of particulate matter that lodges deep in the lungs, and it’s very hazardous to human health. So that actually, you know, pretty reliable and, and, you know, you can check it in real time. So, I think the data on greenhouse gas emissions is actually relatively good. And, you know, that’s one that I trust a lot more than others, other sorts of data actually, probably more than economic data, for example. On COP26, yeah, I don’t know that I can make a great prediction, I guess what I would say is, I still think that the geopolitics are very, very complicated, I don’t think that we can return to anything like the kind of moment we had in 2015. For example, between China and the United States, I don’t think that there’s any chance that the Foreign Relations sort of are in a place where you can have that unprecedented level of kind of climate cooperation. So, we are much more in the realm of kind of just quietly, or, you know, gently trying to establish where you can build areas of trust and so on, rather than rather than sort of full-throated type of climate cooperation. And the geopolitics might continue to get worse. So, I’m not that hopeful. But I suppose what I would say is that the I think there is something important that the UK and other rich countries could signal at G7, which is a really full throated commitment to climate, finance and solidarity with the least developed countries, because, as I say, I think that’s a you know, that’s a moral commitment that, you know, we need to make based on our historic contribution. But I actually do also think that it’s important strategically, in order to sort of take the wind out of the out of the sails of otherwise, a very traditional role that that China can play with falls back into its role as the defender of the G7 countries and basically, doesn’t really feel that its feet are being held to the fire on him on emissions.
Gray Sergeant 54:02
Right. Thanks, Sam. And then some final remarks from you Geraint. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Geraint Davies MP 54:08
Yeah. A couple quick comments I’d like to make, and Sam mentioned PM 2.5. And air quality, as you know, (inaudible) probably could have an air quality and I’m hoping still that the environment bill going through Parliament, the moment has a commitment for legally binding World Health Organization limits on PM 2.5. That will, in fact, then be showcased to the world. And that is an instrument in itself in reducing climate change, because obviously, the most obvious way people can reduce their own emissions is by you know, by having electric cars and abiding by it and having more efficiency, etc. It’s very tangible people know as well through everyday measurements. You know, there’s a lot of asthma in the city center, etc, etc. So these are important things and as Sam said, the you know, In China, they are beginning to take this seriously as well, because they produce everything on such a greater scale and so much quick more quickly, we have seen some quite unfortunate instances of bad air pollution in major Chinese cities. And that has brought forward their agenda on this. And I’ve said some challenging things about China, but the thing about China is that they have been able to change and grow dramatically, quickly, that includes as Heidi said in terms of the green area, my concern is that alongside that they’re continuing to pump away on the fossil fuel side. And it’s important that we factor in the price of carbon and the price of destroying our, you know, world into products. I mean, ultimately, we’re all responsible for climate change, because ultimately, climate change is because we’re burning fuels either to drive around or to automate products that we consume. Now, clearly, that should be part of the price at the moment isn’t part of the price. And if the if the expectation is that it will be part of the price, and I think China will be quicker than others to adapt to the new marketplace, because it’s not all about everybody loves each other. I mean, it is. But we need to provide incentive structures so that people can when Sam and others and Heidi mentioned competing, what needs to happen is that people compete to produce greener, more sustainable products, in the knowledge that they make more profit, (inaudible) misunderstand me. But we’ve got to create an economic regime and a trading regime and a consumer awareness that fires that. Then immediately, the, you know, whatever Chinese producers will say, look, we want to sell more, not less than the EU, unless we’re leading on that we won’t. So, and finally on targets themselves, I think targets themselves, you know, sometimes they are what’s the point these targets. But if there are binding targets, then people are very well as with the air quality targets, if there’s co2 emission targets, you know, basically groups of industrialists and politicians and others, and planners and organizers, set roundtables. And so how are we going to do this, and then they had come up with a plan, and they’ve got to deliver it. Finally, sadly, in terms of 2015, the French, you know, did a great job in the run up in the two years or so before running around doing diplomacy arranging things under the Paris Agreement. And even though we’ve had an extra year due to this tragic pandemic, the fact is that this, the UK government hasn’t really taken the opportunity to really do the prep, now get people together, set the agenda and make a historic change as a global Britain so called to help the world succeed. And the concern is that I mean, we’re running out of time. But my own view, as I’ve made clear hope, is that, you know, we need to pull people towards the idea that in our consumption and trade needs to have carbon priced in, and we need to up our game dramatically. And that includes China.
Gray Sergeant 58:15
That’s great. And, Karen, you’ve just taken us up to the hour. So that’s perfect. If obviously, we were all in a room together we would ask everyone to put their hands together for the speakers, but I should just thank them for their time today. I think we’ve had a really insightful and interesting conversation. Some myth busts, some delving into some of the complexities of this issue and the domestic drivers and the domestic decision making in China that that motivates the environmental policy. And, and maybe for the uninitiated, perhaps you’ve come away from this a little bit more optimistic that China at least understands the problems that is posed by climate change, not just to the world but to itself and as a self in it knows that it’s within its own self-interest to tackle it. And obviously the as we’ve discussed this also, other competing demands, but we should see what COP holds. And, and certainly this issue isn’t going to go away. And certainly, China’s role in this issue isn’t going to go away as a big player on the international stage. But I think certainly take away what sound said about trying to decouple big geopolitics from climate change policy. And, and even if China says on paper as a threat that it wants to link issues like human rights to climate change, it’s important that governments that are also genuinely committed to climate change. Don’t buy into that trap and carry on treating climate change with the as a separate issue and with the seriousness that it demands. So once again, thank you very much for joining us.