After the us exit: climate policy becomes more chinese

The balance is shifting. With the U.S. exit, money and a lobby for transparency and human rights are missing.

Imported from Australia: For all its progress, China is the world’s biggest carbon user Photo: dpa

The official slogan of the UN Climate Change Secretariat UNFCCC is full of hope: "We’re making speed on climate protection!" is written under the photos of jubilant delegates hugging each other at the Paris conference on Dec. 12, 2015. The photos hang at the headquarters of the Secretariat in Bonn, where the next climate conference will be held in November. But there will be no more talk of speed then.

The negotiations surrounding the Paris Agreement will be severely affected by the U.S. withdrawal. The Americans are a heavyweight that has traditionally mobilized diplomatic skills, financial aid and political pressure for climate protection. "We want the Americans to stay on board," was the repeated message from the UN and the German government.

With the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, an important donor is absent. Just under 20 percent of the UNFCCC’s budget comes from Washington, while the figure for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is around 40 percent. And for the "Green Climate Fund," with which the industrialized countries are to support the poor in the global energy turnaround, the U.S. originally pledged three billion dollars of a total of ten billion for the first few years – of which only one billion will flow.

The rest of the bill remains open; projects on clean energy or adaptation to drought and higher sea levels will not then be funded. Also invaluable are the contributions of U.S. researchers and institutions such as Nasa or NOAA, which contribute a large part of the global knowledge about climate change with studies and satellites and monitor its consequences. How secure their funding is is up in the air.

The new alliances beyond Washington will make climate policy more Chinese and more international. Many experts view this with mixed feelings. While China is pushing ahead with the expansion of green energy, it has traditionally resisted transparency and outside control – always one of the big points of contention with the West. Whether and where exactly the state-owned economy adheres to agreements, and how Chinese solar companies are padded with subsidies against European companies, is always a source of annoyance. "Our companies don’t find a rule of law there," worries a German industry representative.

Even the climate saviors are up to their neck in carbon dirt

The governments of countries such as China, Indonesia and Russia are also not squeamish when it comes to human rights, such as the land rights of minorities. In India, the authorities waged a long campaign against Greenpeace. The Europeans have always liked to hide behind the Americans’ broad backs on these difficult issues. That is probably over now. But it is questionable whether and how the divided EU will unanimously support greater transparency and human rights. Governments in countries like Poland and Hungary have neither an economic nor a political interest in this.

The exit of the U.S. and the loss of the British from the EU also weaken the idea of solving climate problems with capitalism via "market mechanisms. Many emerging and developing countries are suspicious of private capital – and are therefore demanding more public money for aid from the industrialized nations. In the debate about "loss and compensation," i.e., reparation payments for climate damage, the poorer countries will now also build up more pressure on Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

After all, the new climate savior alliance also has a lot of carbon dirt on its hands: Canada exports tar sands, Australia exports coal on a large scale, China is the world’s biggest coal user despite all the progress it has made. And the EU is currently struggling internally to chart a clear climate course and against the watering down of targets by its eastern members. And then there is the hopeful Germany, which simply won’t let go of its lignite.

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