For many attending the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, China’s strong stance on environmental issues came as something of a surprise. It shouldn’t have.
Chinese President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum 2017 meeting. Delivering the opening address, Xi urged global leaders to stay in the Paris climate agreement, sparking speculation that China will lead the climate fight. Image: World Economic Forum, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Even amid the frenzy surrounding the inauguration of US president Donald Trump, the presence of a communist leader in one of the citadels of global capitalism was a noteworthy event.
The “Xi in Davos” story evolved quickly; from wry ruminations on the sheer novelty – and inherent irony – of it, leader-writers began to focus on his defence of globalisation and opined on a possible new era of Chinese economic leadership.
But a minority noticed another angle: the strong focus on environmental issues that underpinned the comments of many in the Chinese delegation.
The New York Times called it “unexpected”, while the Guardian speculated that China could “take ownership” of the “climate change fight”.
But among the English language heavyweights, only the Financial Times detailed just how much Beijing has already been doing to tackle environmental problems, and not one acknowledged that Beijing had, in fact, quietly taken ownership of this conversation several years before Xi came to Davos.
An academic and sustainability expert, Zadek became a co-director of the study and moved to Beijing to see if authorities there might be helpful to the Inquiry, maybe even receptive to the idea of reform.
What he found surprised him. Beijing’s attitude to the UN, he told me, was not only much more positive than in the West, but authorities there were ready to both implement a domestic reform agenda and embrace a global role, too.
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