The West has been a leading pollutor of air and water for more than a quarter of a millennium. It was the U.K. that started the ball rolling with its industrial revolution of 1760, while other developed countries gradually followed suit by ruthlessly exploiting old Europe and their newly discovered continents’ resources. The race for progress at that time may be thought of as nascent Euro-American capitalism engineered by the Continent’s most dominant nations.
Owing to historical vicissitudes that made China the victim of both cultural prejudice and economic plundering at the hands of foreign imperialist forces, from the mid-19th century through till the mid-20th century the country was little more than a semi-colonial state. Only recently did China’s formidable economic strength come to the fore. Having belatedly become one of the world’s most significant pollutant-discharging states, however, the pollution it has generated, timewise, adds up to less than one sixth of that of the developed world. Over the last 40 years, the country’s progress has powered technological equality with its European peers, and superiority over certain European standards. Data shows, however, that China’s industry has nonetheless contributed negative impact to the growing global pollution phenomenon.
Yet for 15 or more years China has done its utmost to mitigate what can be defined as the main cause of the planet’s malaise — the threat of its progressive destruction — as a national mission. As early as 2005, while being Party Secretary of Zhejiang Province, Xi Jinping had paid particular attention to the country’s ecology conservation, having made the enlightening observation: “Green mountains and clear waters are as invaluable assets as gold and silver” that triggered a serious debate on protecting green resources from exploitation.
It was a metaphor destined to trigger a turning point in China’s ecological development — the goal of being able to say after around two decades or so that a part of the “Chinese Dream” had come true. Today, there is an ever-rising awareness of the negative effects of pollution, atmospheric pollution in particular, on climate change.
A preparatory meeting for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is held in Milan on September 30, as the final official ministerial meeting ahead of the COP26.
Much has been done in the year 2021 to tackle the problems caused by climate change. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 31–November 12, 2021 may be regarded as part of a global emergency measure because, absent decisive international countermeasures, global temperatures will have risen around three degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
This fact will nullify the 2015 Paris Agreement target on climate change, according to whose framework 192 Parties out of 197 Parties to the Convention undertook to reduce average temperatures by less than two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
An agreement was reached among the signatories whereby as there is no planet A and B, it is vital to define in Glasgow the universality of the United States and Europe on the one hand, and emerging economies represented by China, India, and Russia on the other, in regard to committing to stringent decarbonization measures. In-between these two large entities are the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries — those that pollute the least and suffer the worst consequences of climate change.
That Beijing has proactively helped unlock negotiations towards making a fundamental agreement possible signifies the great store China lays on achieving climate change control. The work China has undertaken over recent years in this regard constitutes a record which the United Nations Environment Programme acknowledged in its “A Review of 20 Years’ Air Pollution Control in Beijing”— the fruits of two years’ work by a team of international and Chinese experts. It showed that, thanks to its constant battle with air pollution, China (with Beijing and its environs at the forefront) has achieved considerable deductions in concentrations of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and inhalable particulate matter (PM10) over the past 20 years.
The Communist Party of China has greatly emphasized in its recent national congresses what it calls “ecological civilization.” The Party’s “Beautiful China” project has promoted an awareness-raising campaign that concerns not only untainted air and conscious control of the climate change, but also protection of the environment through green initiatives geared towards defense of the landscape, air, and water.
China, in common with the countries of Europe as a whole, is strongly committed to safeguarding the world’s precious ecological heritage, not least due to the latter’s considerable impact on the country’s equally precious historical-archaeological heritage. China and the European Union may proactively collaborate through a comprehensive response to the planet’s ills wherein both geographical and environmental realities constitute responsible protection. It starts with climate surveillance, and progress made in mitigating and controlling the climatic impact of pollutants.
The Glasgow conference is tasked with restoring the unity of purpose recently compromised by virtue of the anarchism of American politics at the behest of Donald Trump. The former U.S. president’s irresponsible disregard for the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol and, above all, his ordering of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement generated widespread disorientation.
The urgency to combat climate change has been accentuated by environmental disasters occurring throughout the planet that have accelerated alarmingly in recent years. Evidence and testimonies imply that irrational policies trigger natural disasters that we have yet to equip the planet to face. Humanity expects from the Glasgow conference an agreement devoid of reticence or exceptions. China, along with other major world economies, is aware that the responsibilities in climate control are a shared and responsible commitment. The spirit of collaboration that has bound China and the EU in the ecological field for over 20 years indeed gives us hope. If the planet is home to everyone, then its climate — which affects the air we breathe and the water we drink — must also nurture everyone.
ADRIANO MÀDARO is an Italian writer, journalist, and a well-known expert on China. He has published more than 30 books on modern China.