The special climate change conference called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ended this week on promises, not hope, as many before it have. Closing the conference, Ban said: "We heard strong commitment for a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris next year, with a first draft to be presented in Lima in December."
The UN secretary-general has taken the initiative to try and resolve many international issues, primary among them regional conflicts and the menace of climate change. But without the participation, and of course help, of the international community, especially the big players, it is not possible to resolve even the most trivial of issues, let alone the complex issue of climate change.
Not surprisingly, the naysayers - that is, climate skeptics - have been rejoicing at the absence from the conference of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and they have been quick to call it a "failure". They even claim, quite shamelessly, that the New York rally, one of the biggest on climate change, was a "damp squib", as were others in many other cities around the world.
Xi didn't attend the conference. But Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli did, and issued one of the most concrete statements at the meeting. Zhang talked about measures to be taken after 2020 to combat climate change, making China perhaps the first country to do so. He talked about fixing a date when emissions will peak, apart from reiterating that China remains committed to curbing carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
China's actions extend to water and soil pollution too. It is working on a $326 billion action plan to clean its polluted rivers and lakes, and is on track to reduce water pollution by more than the targeted 2 per cent this year. It is for the skeptics to answer whether attending a climate conference is more important than taking concrete actions against climate change.
The absence of some major countries' leaders from the New York conference is not a setback, as the skeptics claim, for the fight against climate change. The real setbacks are countries' failure to cut emissions as promised or needed, and the lack of coordinated international action against the threat of global warming, especially the reluctance of advanced countries to keep their promise of donating $100 billion a year to the Green Climate Fund to help poor countries adapt to and fight climate change.
It is a shame that the New York conference could only elicit the pledge of $2.3 billion for the fund from the advanced economies. "After four long years (of making the promise), the cash is starting to land in the GCF, albeit at little more than a trickle," Tim Gore, head of climate policy for aid organisation Oxfam, said at the conference.
To make things worse, there were attempts by some advanced economies' leaders, especially US President Barack Obama, to twist facts to trumpet their "green" achievements. For example, Obama said: "So, all told, these advances have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades - proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth." But as the Associated Press noted: About half of the 10 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions achieved by the US in recent years can be attributed to economic recession, not any specific actions from the Obama administration. Obama also conveniently forgot to mention that US carbon emissions rose 2.9 per cent from 2012 to 2013, the first increase since 2007, because higher natural gas prices increased the use of coal.
Also, in its mad pursuit to look for alternative sources of energy, the US is actually causing more harm to the Earth than has been reported. Latest research, though inconclusive, by the US Geological Survey shows that states where hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is rampant have seen a surge in earthquakes.
North America also faces a "carbon time bomb". With the extraction of tar sands in Canada to develop dirty fuel, companies are releasing thousands of tons of carbon into the air and contributing to the already high atmospheric pollution.
As Canadian social activist Naomi Klein said in a recent interview, "There was this idea that it was just a process of convincing very wealthy people that this (climate change) really was a problem, and that there really were costs down the road and that in the long term it would be better to prevent it from happening," she said. "The problem is, capitalism is stupid. You know that cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, 'It's Global Warming, Stupid', well, it is not global warming, but capitalism that is stupid in that it doesn't actually think."
The author is a senior editor with China Daily. firstname.lastname@example.org