patten135_Jeff HutchensGetty Images_china coal Jeff HutchensGetty Images

China Is Holding the Planet Hostage

China’s inadequate efforts to tackle climate change will likely undermine the credibility of governments in open societies. And if the world fails to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the resulting extreme weather will further strain relations between elected governments and citizens, possibly jeopardizing democracy itself.

LONDON – The verbal emissions at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow were understandably extensive but fortunately less environmentally damaging than the energy path on which the world remains set. Governments reached a fragile agreement that still just about keeps in play the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s main target of limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But unless countries do a great deal more, and quickly, the actual temperature rise is likely to be at least a full degree higher.

The biggest disappointment in Glasgow was the last-minute watering down of the proposed (and widely supported) agreement to “phase out” the use of coal in energy production. With India providing political cover for China in vetoing this language, the final conference proposal was to “phase down” coal – an expression that has never left my lips or pen in several decades of speaking and writing English. It is entirely devoid of conviction. If an alcoholic promises to “phase down” his alcohol consumption, the result will almost certainly be trouble.

China accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption, and has the largest amount of coal-fired generating capacity under construction. Pressed about why his country would not do more in Glasgow to help save the planet, China’s chief negotiator pointed to the commitments in the Communist Party of China’s current Five-Year Plan.

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