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China and Global Climate Leadership

Visiting Beijing after an ecology conference on Hainan Island, we stayed at an unassuming back street hotel we found on Lonely Planet. Rooms were arrayed around two inner courtyards and we booked a recommended three room suite tucked in the corner of the back courtyard.

The suite was filled antique furniture and a quiet elegance. It was neither garish nor fancy, but suffused with a carefully considered simplicity of bedroom, meeting hall and office. I felt at the time that I could be living like a Chinese emperor. A turtle, symbol of long life, lived in a stone earn in the courtyard.

Soon after, I discovered that Huo Guofeng, who succeeded Mao as Chairman of the Central Committee, lived modestly in these rooms. They were rooms fit for a king, but only on the basis of restrained and careful beauty, not on the basis of golden trinkets. Huo Guofeng ousted the Gang of Four. He was succeeded by leadership exercised by Deng Xiaoping and the subsequent rise to global economic and political power of China in the 21st century.

Much has been made of the recent announcement that the mandated two term limit for President Xi Jinping will be suspended. There are, of course, always risks from unrestrained power, of unintended consequences from even good intentions. But I will take a different tact given the rapidly emerging and deepening global ecological climate crisis. President Xi is uniquely positioned to exert global leadership for the common global good to help us accelerate our actions and save ourselves before it is too late.

At a time when the United States under Donald Trump has adopted climate change denial as national policy, and embraced a pro-fossil fuel agenda, it is China that can help exert a healing response to excess.China is already global leader in solar PV, wind, solar hot water, reforestation.

Recent reports from the Arctic are dire.Warm air and warm water are flowing northward and melting the ice and permafrost even in the Arctic winter night. It has sometimes been warmer at the North Pole in February than in Europe or Western U.S. If the Arctic ocean becomes ice free in the summer, global climate change and consequences will almost certainly accelerate. Sunlight, instead of reflecting back into space by ice, will rapidly warm the oceans, releasing enormous amounts of methane from the seabed and melting permafrost, accelerating the melting of Greenland’s vast ice mass, and likely radically disrupting global climate patterns.

This is why global leadership by an empowered President Xi will matter very much to all of us around the world.The United States has sidelined itself as global leader and partner. The initiative for dynamic global action must come from Beijing.

Wild fires and mud slides in California are the new normal, as are class four and five hurricanes devastating costal cities. This summer in Newton, MA for the first time I listened to the evening roar of hurricane force winds outside for several hours, not from a named tropical storm but as a consequences of the new normal of strange weather.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to power in the United States at a time of global depression and global war and served four terms as President and helped transform the world and defeat fascism and the armies of Germany and Japan and ushered in a period of global American leadership. Now it is Presidents Xi’s moment to respond to the crisis and seize the opportunity.

President Xi can exert his leadership to accelerate, nationally and globally, on an emergency basis, the rapid transformation from fossil fuels to efficient renewables, and similarly transform agriculture and forestry and aquaculture to sequester carbon and remove it from the atmosphere to exert global cooling.

Globally, the challenge, writ large, is to make economic growth mean ecological improvement and a tool, not just for ecological survival and carbon removal, but for sustainable economic growth for all and an end to global poverty. This can be China’s existing Belt and Road initiative write large in global partnership and with a particular focus on energy and climate. It means trillions of dollars of investment and global poverty reduction and partnerships to create sustainable jobs and build wealth and assets for the poor. This means an ecological global economic growth agenda and partnership in sustainability and prosperity. This is a lifeline both for the planet and for the global poor. Responding successfully to the climate emergency to succeed cannot be an agenda to serve and expand the privileges of the rich at the expense of the poor.

The climate emergency means much more than voluntary pledges in Paris with modest goals. Climate emergency requires both concrete plans and immediate actions that will reduce over the next twenty years global carbon and methane emissions to a sustainable 3 tons per persons per year, 21gigatons globally, and remove and sequester many gigatons of carbon yearly. In 2018, the Climate Emergency in practical terms requires Chinese leadership focused and coordinated by President Xi. The People’s Political Consultative Congress has given him the tools. Now is the time for him to use them to lead the world toward development of an ecological civilization.

The alternative is the ever increasing likelihood of global ecological crisis and collapse. All fall down.

For my part, I suggest a 2018 global conference in China with leading global experts, financiers,industrialists and doers to help plan the kind of global and national strategies for the emergency global response to the clear and present climate danger.

People like Amory Lovins, Hans Josef Fell, Elon Musk, Gregor Czisch, Mark Jacobson, Daniel Kammen and many others who have a global perspective and the ability to conceive and execute plans that can help bring us from here,an endangered present, to there, a sustainable ecological civilization.

Fulfillment of the Chinese dream in the 21st century must be done in harmony with diverse global visions that offers a sustainable and just ecological future for us all.

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