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Green light for action


The Glasgow climate conference delivered an outcome that was better than expected. But it is now all about the political economy.

Last week saw the Glasgow meeting achieved progress on methane, deforestation, phasing down coal and a lot more. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to ensure half of the country's energy mix comes from renewables by 2030. And despite the distractions of geopolitical tensions, China and the United States surprised the world with a joint declaration stressing cooperation on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

But climate talks, in Glasgow or elsewhere, are no longer the main driver of change. The political economy is. The drastic fall in the price of solar energy is more significant to our struggle than texts at a conference table. President Xi Jinping decided to stop China's overseas coal investments. President Joe Biden signed $1 trillion mostly green infrastructure bill into law and has more in the pipeline. The European Union is implementing its taxonomy for sustainable finance. These are concrete steps.

Business climate action taken by Microsoft, Ikea, Tesla, Huawei, Reliance and many more companies can be transformational and spur imitation if policymakers provide clear road maps and regulatory frameworks. In most countries business is now ahead of politics, driving the green shift.

Glasgow discussed money. I fully agree that developed nations need to pay more, but the big money has to come from business. When green infrastructure replaces coal, China's colossal Belt and Road Initiative will turn into the world's most important vehicle for green investments.

Business is the real key to climate success, and China is leading the way on many fronts. It provided half of solar power in the world last year, and by far the biggest producer of wind energy. About 70 percent of all high-speed rail is running on Chinese tracks and 99 percent of all electric buses are travelling on Chinese roads.

To succeed together, China and the US should focus on increasing the speed of transformation, on a fair transition and on nature based solutions.

The Belt and Road Initiative provides a great opportunity for China to share its technologies and to provide green investments in everything from solar power to green rail. China should above all emphasize speed and urgency.

Shenzhen in Guangdong province is an inspiring example of how fast change can happen. In 1980, the city did not even exist; it was a fishing village. Now, not only is Shenzhen one of the most prosperous cities in the world--it is also one of the greenest. It runs 16,000 electric buses, more than in the rest of the world outside of China, and 20,000 electric cabs. There are electric trucks at construction sites. Shenzhen also has some of the greatest green corridors in the world, forming a line of defense against pollution, and wetlands, hosting critical bird habitats, are integrated right in the center of the city.

It is critical to ensure a fair transition to the green economy. It is clear that societies at large will benefit hugely from the green shift. We will get more and better jobs, lower prices and better health. Still, it is critical to help potential losers. Coal miners in Kentucky, the US, or in Shanxi, China, may lose out while green jobs are created in California or in Guangdong. Governments must act to alleviate the pains of change, establish training programs and promote regional development. Otherwise resistance to change will be widespread. The EU has established big funds for a fair transition. Ideas and experiences should be exchanged.

Regarding nature based solutions, the Chinese redlining system is a global best practice to protect Mother Nature. It offers a scientific approach to providing conservation status to green hotspots in densely populated areas such as the Pearl River Delta or the lower Yangtze. It is easy for most nations to conserve far away mountains. The real challenge is to protect nature where it is most threatened, close to centers of great human habitation.

As President Xi said in his talk with President Biden via video link on Tuesday, we all live in a global village. I will venture to take this metaphor one step further: When the forest around the village is burning, we should stop squabbling and work together to put out the fire.

Employing another metaphor, President Xi compared China and the US to two giant ships sailing in the ocean during his talk with President Biden, saying that the two sides should keep a steady hand on the tiller, so that the ships will break waves and forge ahead together without losing direction or speed, still less colliding with each other.

There couldn't be a better metaphor to illustrate the essence of what is arguably the world's most important bilateral relationship.

To break waves and forge ahead, the US should stop pointing accusing fingers at China and begin to accept China as an equal partner. For the last 100 years, the US has been the world's undisputed leader. It is naturally not easy for Westerners to accept a multipolar world where China is an equal power. But the US will have to come to terms with the inevitable fact that the Chinese ship will soon be just as big and powerful.

While breaking waves and forging ahead, China should look to the smaller boats following the two giant ships. With China's rising status comes the expectation that it understands the concerns of smaller nations. A powerful and proud China should avoid overreacting to small slights. It needs to work to restrain domestic anti-US sentiment. President Xi was right when he called upon his diplomats to create a more lovable image of China abroad. China is a civilizational state with a population four times bigger and with a history 10 times longer than US.China should become more confident as it continues its rejuvenation.

The author is president of the Belt and Road Initiative Green Development Institute and former executive director of the United Nation Environment Programme. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn