The west can’t engage China on the climate while also demonizing them

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Source: The Independent

Photo by Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock


As Britain prepares to host the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow next month, it is pursuing two contradictory policies that undermine its chances of success. On the one hand, it is seeking a unified global response to the climate crisis with nations agreeing to targets for the reduction of their coal and petroleum emissions. But at the same time, it has joined the US in escalating a new cold war directed at confronting China and Russia at every turn.

The two policies have polar opposite objectives in trying to persuade China, responsible for 27 percent of global carbon emissions, to cut back on building new coal-fuelled power stations, but at the same time demonising China as a pariah state with whom political, commercial and intellectual contacts should be as limited as possible.

Is the risk stemming from China’s claim to the Spratly Islands, and the possibility that it might invade Taiwan, greater than that posed by Beijing building hundreds more coal power stations under its next five year plan – and thereby making the planet less habitable?

Viewed like this the balance of risks is weighted decisively towards giving priority to limiting climate change when comparing it to more traditional security threats originating in state competition. Put it another way, the greatest menace to the west is not the unlikely prospect of president Xi Jinping invading Taiwan or Putin doing the same in Ukraine, but the disappearance of ice in the Arctic bringing about a global sea rise.

Anatol Lieven caustically points out in his ground-breaking book, Climate Change and the Nation State, that the tension between the US and China over the Chinese fortification of reefs and sandbanks in the South China Sea may be ended, if the two nations fail to limit climate change, not by military conflict but by rising sea levels and typhoons that “put the sources of these tensions under water again”.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).

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