Zheng (David) Xu has won the 2021 Sino-German Initiative Essay Competition in association with One Young World with his essay on how further Sino-German cooperation could facilitate the pursuit of ambitious climate policies. He has just completed his undergraduate degree in International Relations at LSE (BSc IR 2021).
Below is his prize-winning essay:
Whether it is regional environmental catastrophes or the gradual rise of sea level, the overwhelming evidence is rapidly reminding us that climate change should be of the most importance to all countries worldwide. In this article, I wish to highlight Sino-German climate cooperation’s positive impacts and the prospects for all developing countries to establish a sustainable development strategy while referencing the Sino-German Climate and Environmental cooperation’s success story.
Climate change is the concept of which pollutants resulting from human activities constantly contribute to global warming. It poses grave threats to the earth’s ecological system. In addition to the long-term impact, the worsening, among other things, of forest fire around the world, emphasises climate change should be viewed as an international security risk that requires immediate action. Yet, in practice, environmental protection is considerably more difficult, as, for many relatively impoverished countries, it is less appealing. For the developing countries, environmental protection is like the purchase of an organic apple, costly and ‘unwarranted’. When faced with a population haunted by poverty, one would understandably choose the more conventional means of development (ie, a regular apple) over the costly and sustainable development strategy. (ie, an organic apple). Over the past decades, China has made a tremendous effort in strengthening its environmental protection policy and is one of, if not the first, developing country to take a bite at the ‘organic apple’.
China has made a tremendous effort in strengthening its environmental protection policy and is one of, if not the first, developing country to take a bite at the ‘organic apple’.
As of the year 2020, China achieved great success, including reducing its air pollution by 33%. Germany played a significant role in facilitating China’s success. China and Germany had long-held close economic and political cooperations. Notably, they first joined forces in environmental protection in 2007 with the signing of the Sino-German Agreement on Environmental Labelling and Market Access. This agreement provided necessary market access for both Chinese and German eco-friendly ventures operating within the two countries. In the 2010s, the Sino-German environmental cooperation went into full thrust mode with the launching of Sino-German bilateral dialogue aimed at facilitating cooperation between the respected ministries of both countries (ie, BMU & MEE).
Under the framework of Sino-German climate dialogues, projects like the Sino-German Climate Partnership (SGCP) were launched and ran continuously throughout the past decade. There are currently six Sino-German bilateral projects under the German International Climate Initiative (IKI) and implemented by the German Agency of International Cooperation (GIZ). From the advisory role in the very first Chinese National Climate Change Adaption Strategy (国家适应气候变化战略) to the later sub-national new energy city program across several Chinese municipalities in phase III, SGCP provided invaluable assistance in China’s quest for establishing ecological civilisations.
In addition to expert assistance under SGCP, GIZ also provided training for Chinese officials on Emission Trading System (ETS) under the Sino-German Capacity Building project. After thorough ETS training and policy design, MEE announced a plan to establish a national level emissions cap on the power industry by 2021. ETS is set to cover approximately 40% of the national emission level and will serve as a crucial pillar in achieving China’s carbon neutrality plan by 2060. On the municipal level, GIZ also tailored advice on China’s environmental policy. Titled the Developing Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAPs), GIZ, and Innovative Green Development Program (IGDP), based on all Sino-German cooperations’ previous experience, outlined a step-by-step policy proposal for a municipalities-oriented environment protection and development strategy.
Through direct assistance and capacity building, the Sino-German climate cooperation witnessed China’s successful transition from a polluter to a leading environmental protection contributor.
Through direct assistance and capacity building, the Sino-German climate cooperation witnessed China’s successful transition from a polluter to a leading environmental protection contributor. Sino-German environmental cooperation also presented the only example of the successful implementation of Caney’s hybrid model of both ‘Polluter pays’ and ‘Ability to pay’ on a national level. China’s increasing emphasis on clean and sustainable development provided a unique model of developed-assisted environmental strategies implementation for the developing countries. Going back to the organic apple analogy, Sino-German climate cooperation provided both the education on the health benefits and, more importantly, an affordable price for organic apples, making the organic apple an attractive and affordable operation for all.
Despite all the success, in the context of the intensified ‘strategic competition’ in the international community, Sino-German relations are becoming increasingly complicated. Further Sino-German environmental cooperation will play a crucial role, achieving not only ecological benefits but also serving the ‘Green Safety Net’ of Sino-German bilateral relations. With the extensive research and institutional knowledge accumulated through China’s transition to sustainable development strategy, I believe that China and Germany should continuously work together to better contribute to what will likely be a sustainable developmental catch-up growth for all global south countries in the next twenty years.
This article represents the views of the author, and not the position of the Department of International Relations, nor of the London School of Economics.