President says ‘we only have one homeland’ in a coded warning to Donald Trump not to dismantle the agreement
January 19, 2017 — The world must not allow the Paris climate deal to be “derailed” or continue to inflict irreparable damage on the environment, Chinese president Xi Jinping has said, amid fears the rise of Donald Trump could strike a body blow to the fight against global warming.
Trump, who will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, has threatened to pull out of the historic Paris agreement and dismissed climate change as a Chinese “hoax” and “expensive… bullshit”.
But in an address to the United Nations in Geneva on Wednesday, which observers saw as a high-profile bid to bolster China’s image as a reliable and dedicated climate leader, Xi issued a direct challenge to those views, warning “there is only one Earth in the universe and we mankind have only one homeland”.
“The Paris agreement is a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavor is not derailed,” the Communist party leader said.
“All parties should work together to implement the Paris agreement. China will continue to take steps to tackle climate change and fully honor its obligations,” Xi added, according to a transcript published by Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
Just a few months ago, climate campaigners hailed a major breakthrough in efforts to tackle global warming when Barack Obama and Xi jointly announced that their countries, the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases, would ratify the Paris accord.
“We have a saying in America that you need to put your money where your mouth is,” Obama said at the time. “And when it comes to combating climate change that is what we are doing … we are leading by example.”
Signatories of the deal, which came into force in November last year, agreed to keep global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
However, Trump’s shock election – and the presence of so many climate sceptics in his administration – has thrown the US’ commitment to such goals into doubt.
The Guardian has interviewed more than a dozen leading global voices on climate change in the run-up to 24 hours of live, uninterrupted digital coverage running from Thursday through to Trump’s inauguration on Friday.
Reporters have investigated countless examples of climate change utterly transforming lives and livelihoods, from Bangladesh to Egypt, west Africa to the south Pacific, even Europe and the United States itself, despite Trump’s repeated claims that it is a hoax.
In his Geneva speech Xi reaffirmed Beijing’s pledges to slash its emissions and sought to position China, which remains the world’s top polluter, as a global pacesetter on climate change and sustainable development.
“We should make our world clean and beautiful by pursuing green and low-carbon development,” he told his audience.
“Man coexists with nature, which means that any harm to nature will eventually come back to haunt man. We hardly notice natural resources such as air, water, soil and blue sky when we have them. But we won’t be able to survive without them.”
“Industrialisation has created material wealth never seen before, but it has also inflicted irreparable damage to the environment,” Xi went on. “We must not exhaust all the resources passed on to us by previous generations and leave nothing to our children or pursue development in a destructive way. Clear waters and green mountains are as good as mountains of gold and silver. We must maintain harmony between man and nature and pursue sustainable development.”
Li Shuo, Greenpeace’s China climate policy adviser, described Xi’s speech as “a very important political signal … especially in the context of the incoming US administration”.
The activist said he believed Xi’s call to arms on the climate was designed to pressure Trump’s White House into sticking to his predecessor’s commitments while simultaneously highlighting China’s role as a responsible climate leader.
“It is a calculated move… it is their first move on the chess board and I expect further moves if they are needed at a later stage,” said Li.
“China has a very important and a very special role in keeping the US on course and we would very much like to see them use their leverage on that,” he added.
Zhang Haibin, an expert in environmental diplomacy from Peking University’s school of international studies, said Xi’s speech was a response to the global “uncertainties and concerns” that Trump’s election had thrown up, including over climate change.
The president’s words “sent a strong signal to the world” about China’s determination to tackle global warming.
Zhang said Beijing would stick to its climate commitments since it understood the importance of cutting deadly air pollution but argued China would not want to serve as the world’s “sole leader” on climate change.
“We regard ourselves as a developing country and, in addition to that, we’ve got pollution issues and are facing an economic slowdown at home,” he said.