Conference “Global Climate Governance and China’s Role – between Katowice and New York”

Event: Sustainable Growth Model

Before last year’s climate summit in Katowice (COP24) had begun, many observers had been pessimistic that the meeting would be able to deliver the necessary progress to finalise a workable version of the Implementation Guidelines of the Paris Agreement. (This “rulebook” spells out how the Paris Agreement of 2015 is to be put into practice by its signatory parties.) This mostly had to do with the much more divided international political landscape as compared to 2015 when the Paris Agreement had been struck with the substantial support of the USA and China.

However, despite these circumstances and the intense debate on issues like carbon markets (a topic that has been shelved until the next COP), the end result of COP24 –most importantly, a uniform rulebook making national contributions comparable– was deemed by many to be very positive and a win for multilateralism. Nevertheless, many countries and organisations stress that there is still much work to do to achieve the goal of Paris of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

To explore what needs to be done and how this can be achieved in the next years, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s Shanghai Representative Office and the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) jointly convened an international conference in February 2019, which was attended by scholars and policy-makers from China, the European Commission, Germany, the USA, Japan, India and Southeast Asia.

Starting off the conference, the efforts of EU countries and China to implement the PA were discussed as well as the possibility of the US re-joining the Paris agreement at a later date. Given the current international landscape, increasing climate ambition was seen as among the most difficult issues. Besides international disagreements and the resulting difficulty of the negotiation process itself, the rising threat of second-order and third-order problems related to climate change were also discussed as well, with participants issuing stark warnings that climate risks were rising across the board. Climate change-induced migration flows, crop failures and other non-traditional security risks had serious implications for policy makers, they stressed, pointing to how the arrival of a relatively minor number of migrants from Syria and other Middle-Eastern countries had led to a significant reshaping of Europe’s political landscape in the last five years.

These rising risks were compounded by systemic issues such as the lack of long-term risk perspectives among governments, inadequate risk management systems and fragmented or bilateral-only approaches to overarching problems of climate and environmental governance. Participants also warned that low-frequency but high-impact climate events would soon strike much more frequently and thus become the new normal.

Another major aspect of the discussions was how governments, societies, businesses and civil society could manage and achieve a Just Transition, meaning the necessary structural changes towards decarbonisation on the one hand and decent as well as sustainable jobs on the other. The participants emphasised the opportunities for workers and businesses of interconnecting decarbonisation and development, which promises to boost livelihoods, lower carbon emissions, and provide new impulses to broader skill development among workers. Part of this discussion was how to deal with high-carbon sectors such as the coal sector and avoiding “stranded assets”, likely to pose a huge burden to tax payers. Proper financing and transition plans were needed across the world, in addition to more honest and comprehensive cost analyses of both fossil-fuel and renewable energy projects.

At the end of the conference, participants reiterated the importance of formulating an adequate multilateral political response to the UNFCCC’s dramatic 1.5C report, of acting on the linkages between climate change and sustainable development and of mobilising development banks and the financial sector to generate the necessary investments in green infrastructure and development. These and the conundrum of how to increase climate ambition will play a central part at this year’s UN climate summit in New York and other upcoming events. However, much more concrete goals were needed so that these summits would then be able to actually deliver on them, some cautioned. Other participants warned against the unpredictability of the financial sector and cautioned against overly relying on private-sector investments to achieve climate goals.

The conference showed the urgency of climate change and the difficulties in tackling it in an effective and multilateral way. But it also showed that more and more people, institutions and businesses in China, Asia, Europe and across the whole world are pushing more and more for concrete action towards a zero-carbon future.

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