South-South co-op stands out in climate change challenge

By Liu Yi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Today, December 11, 2015
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Since 2011, China has accumulatively allocated around US $44 million to South-South climate change cooperation. Although details have not yet been published, the new China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund is expected to bring about a lasting institutional change to financial aid under the SSC framework.

Multiple dimensions needed for effective cooperation

Tackling climate change involves a broad spectrum of topics from energy, trade, transportation, to health and poverty reduction, "So they cross-reference with different public sectors like commerce, agriculture, and education," Thiaw said. During his stay in Beijing, he held discussions with the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection as well as withthe Ministry of Commerce and National Development and Reform Commission on reaching broader consensus and cooperation. Thiaw believes that all sectors, not just environmental departments, should address climate change.

Before being appointed UNEP deputy executive director and UN assistant-secretary-general in 2013, Thiaw had for some time served as director of the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation. He led the biggest UNEP division in cooperating with agencies within the UN system and also non-UN bodies. One example is the UNEP-UNDP Poverty and Environment Initiative, which helps developing countries improve management of the environment. This contributes directly to poverty reduction, as it is people living in poverty that most depend on natural resources for their livelihoods.

Through its liaison country office in Beijing, the UNEP established a concrete partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and banking systems like the People's Bank of China. It also conducts full-scale cooperation with the municipal governments of Beijing, Guiyang, and Tianjin, with such research organs as the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and with universities.

It is noteworthy that UNEP's partnership with China is in the science and technology sector. New emerging green technologies constitute one of the guarantees of overcoming climate change. China also leads in many green technologies transferrable to other developing countries, like LED lighting and solar panels. In 2012, the UNEP co-established the Global Efficient Lighting Center (GELC) in China. Its aim was to promote high-efficiency LED lighting, and to help set up related policies, standards, and quality inspection systems in African, Asian, and Pacific countries, based on China's experience and technologies.

China and other developing countries are at similar stages of development, which makes understanding one another's demands much easier and cooperation successful. "This is the core of South-South Cooperation," Thiaw said. However, different socio-economic situations probably still impede transfers of technologies and experience. Of foremost importance is making sure that the technologies are good and clean enough to be adapted to other countries, Thiaw said.

But that is not sufficient. Thiaw declared that we should give full play to the market in the course of climate cooperation. "Environmental undertaking is not philanthropy," Thiaw said, "it is about business, new business." Taking the aviation industry as an example, energy-efficient technologies will save on companies' fuel budgets; a new flushing system, for example, will enable the loading of less water on aircrafts, which will also saves airline companies' energy-usage, as water is one of their heaviest properties. Mindful of the profit margins of green tech and policies, the market will voluntarily search out the most efficient products and adapt them to local demands.

If the market is fully aware of the value of green technologies and policies, funds from financial markets, capital markets and bank systems will be channeled into this field, Thiaw said. "A healthy planet and profits are not incompatible -- you can have both." In fact, many forward-looking entrepreneurs have arrived at this understanding. The UN high-level official said that stock markets, no matter in Shanghai or New York, pay close attention to clean energy and air quality, while only 10 years ago, "everyone was talking about oil and fossil fuel."

Concerted efforts for a shared future

In September 2015, the UN published the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that aims to help define the future global development framework. The new development agenda envisions the environment as one of the three pillars of future sustainable development; the other two are the economy and society. The environmental element is thus fully integrated into the agenda's 17 goals and 169 targets.

Business as usual will not achieve the 2030 agenda, Thiaw said. "The new agenda requires that we transform our way of living, of transporting ourselves, and of heating, etc." He raised the example of food wastage. At the moment, the way we produce, process, and cook food wastes about one third of it. This is equivalent to around one billion tons every year, which could feed the whole sub-Saharan population. One of the 2030 Agenda targets is halving the amount of wasted food. It need not be difficult if everyone acts, but "In essence, it does require a change of mindset and lifestyle," Thiaw said.

But a radical transition needs full participation and concerted efforts by all countries, big and small, developed and developing. "No single country can succeed in the battle against climate change," Thiaw said, "as we have only one planet." He again stressed collaboration among countries, especially developing countries that are more vulnerable to changes in the natural environment. "China's experience is just as valuable to other countries as that which China needs to learn from other countries." Thiaw concluded that in facing these unprecedented global challenges, "We are all learning from scratch."

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