Letter: China, E.U. will trump climate change

After Miami has been swallowed by the Atlantic, and the smog over the Great Plains becomes so thick farmers are reminded of great clouds of locusts, perhaps we can all look up and see a potential silver lining in U.S President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord.

As  America shies  away from global leadership on climate change, the European Union and China are stepping in to fill the void.

The day after Trump announced on Twitter he would be leaving the Paris Accord, the E.U and China issued a joint statement ahead of their annual summit, held June 1−2 in Brussels. The document reaffirmed their collective commitment to the emissions reduction targets and underlying norms of the agreement.

“The E.U and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy,” said E.U. climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.

He also added, “Now is the time to further strengthen these ties to keep the wheels turning for global climate action.”

It is truly commendable that China and the E.U−the world’s first- and-third heaviest polluters, accounting for 20 and 13.4 per cent of global emissions respectively−agreed to proceed in the face of Trump’s departure.

And, thankfully, it is not merely a political face−saving manoeuvre. The E.U is allocating $11.2 million to help implement a cap-and-trade system in China, which will incentivize Chinese businesses to reduce emissions.

However, it is in Cañete’s latter statement that the seeds of a potential restructured  international order were sown.

The period of undisputed American hegemony is going to come to an end sooner or later. Many argue we are witnessing the decline firsthand.

Ensuring there is a nascent global order both willing and able to take the reins as America declines is an essential exercise in providing future stability. A power vacuum breeds chaos like a sewer breeds stench.

If the E.U. and especially China, both members of that ascendant group of international actors, are willing to provide global leadership based on a commitment to multilateralism underpinned by near-universally-accepted norms, such as commitment to climate action, then I doubt the worst fears of U.S decline will materialize.

Chinese partnership with the E.U. is particularly important, as Europe’s strong commitment to international co-operation and human rights could help mitigate some of Beijing’s potential unilateral leanings as it continues to gain power. The two are already engaged in massive levels of trade, and co-operation on climate policy can only be seen as a positive.

Ideally, China−E.U. co-operation would eventually creep into the realm of security (there are some who argue climate policy should be considered as security policy), and China will realize that a multilateral solution to its many border disputes is in everyone’s best interest. At least when negotiating with the European Union, accusations of near unfettered unilateralism, like those directed at the United States, cannot be made with a straight face. 

In the age of Trump, healthy skepticism−not to be confused with conspiratorial thinking−and a true devotion to nuance will prove bulwarks to hyperbole, wilful blindness and outright lies.