Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan speaks with leading Chinese thinkers about climate action in the post-Paris world

From left to right: Senior Consultant for China's National Reform and Development Council Energy and Climate Change Program Yang Fuqiang, Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan, Chairman of Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy Qi Ye, NCSC Senior Researcher Liu Qiang.

As part of her week-long visit to Greenpeace’s China office, Greenpeace International’s new executive director, Jennifer Morgan participated in a discussion on post-Paris climate issues at the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy on Friday 15 July. The round table discussion was a unique opportunity for Greenpeace to share its thoughts on what made the Paris climate summit a success and, importantly, what needs to be done next with some of China’s leading thinkers on climate and energy policy.

In a short key-note speech, and the ensuing discussions, Jennifer stressed that Paris was a turning point that ushered in a new and more hopeful era for climate action. “I believe the world shifted slightly,” she said.

Among the key reasons for bringing about this new era for climate action, defined by multilateral cooperation, has been China’s constructive role in climate talks – both at Paris and in key bilateral relationships, such as with the US. In the run up to Paris, China raised important new ideas, such as “peaking emissions” and brought about a shift not only in other countries’ positions, but also in mindsets.

It was also noted in the discussion that China’s domestic action on cutting coal consumption, promoting solar and wind power and rapidly transforming the country’s energy sector has in some ways been even more ambitious than its international commitments. It would be beneficial to the world to see this domestic progress translated into the international arena and act to spur on other countries’ action.

It is not all rosy of course. As Greenpeace pointed out with a report released just a few days ahead of the Brookings Institute discussion, contradictions in China’s energy policy are allowing for the manic construction of coal fired power plants and weighing down an energy transition which could be happening far faster.

Jennifer also noted the key role of NGOs in climate negotiation and action. NGOs, along with progressive business groups and research organisations, are able to bring fresh ideas into a “safe space”, a luxury governments simply cannot afford. At Paris, in their politically neutral position, NGOs were also able to help governments understand each others’ positions, helping to oil the cogs of complex multilateral discussions.

NGOs are also critical for making public opinion on climate heard loud and clear. The more than 300,000 strong march in New York ahead of Paris was key in upping the pressure on the US government to return from Paris with results.

So where next? We are now in the post-Paris world and feeling the need to maintain the Paris momentum. With the impact of climate change almost daily reminding us the gravity of the problems, much still needs to be done.

Firstly, the Paris agreement needs to be ratified by countries and formally come into force, hopefully this year. Secondly, countries need to urgently address the so-called ‘ambition gap’ by enhancing their actions on mitigation, adaptation and support. Thirdly, the specific rules of the Paris agreement need to be worked out in negotiations over the next few years.

Continued domestic action is extremely critical. “Domestic action after Paris has to be different for Paris to be taken seriously,” Jennifer noted. China’s action on coal has been a good example of this, and hopefully will continue and be replicated around the world in order to bring about a much needed energy revolution and the beginnings of a global low carbon economy.

We also need to be thinking broad. Tackling climate change is not only about international diplomacy, but about cooperation between all key players. We need to take a holistic approach and work towards new economic paradigms for low carbon economies which can sustain a good life for humanity, including a safe climate.

The objective now is to bring all these things together and keep the world well below the 2 degrees threshold. And China has a huge role to play in this.

Jennifer finished her address; “the next five years are vital…to set a mark in the history books that we all understood what was at stake and took the hard and correct decisions to turn the corner to create a livable and sustainable future for the world.”