By Terry Macalister / Climate News Network

    China’s population dwarfs that of the U.S., so its impact on the climate will be more profound. (Kevin Jaako via Flickr)

LONDON — A leading voice in the debate on climate change says more attention should be paid to positive action being taken to tackle CO2 emissions in China rather than worrying about the US and Donald Trump.

Bryony Worthington, a Labour peer and co-author of the 2008 Climate Change Act, says the White House “soap opera” is compelling but a distraction and not a potential road block to successful worldwide action against global warming.

“In many ways it would be ‘back to business as usual’ if Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate change agreement as he has threatened,” she argues.

“I would rather they [the US] stayed in. I would rather they participated in the way they have up till now in a positive way, but it’s not going to be the end of the world if that happens.

“We have had to deal with a non-cooperative Federal US position before in climate negotiations – clearly, Obama being at the end of his second term of office had a hugely positive effect on the outcome of Paris – but that was the exception in recent years. Action globally can still prevail, and in the US too, at a city and state level, progress there will continue to be hugely important.

“It would be a setback, but I think the rest of the world has united … and that’s kind of interesting in that it shows a galvanising effect and that, I think, is what will continue to happen.”

Baroness Worthington was speaking ahead of a talk she will give on Thursday, the first in the UK’s new annual Cambridge Climate Lecture Series.

China’s population

Worthington, who sits in the House of Lords, and is the executive director for Europe of the Environmental Defense Fund, says China will have a more profound impact on the future climate than the US, if only because of its larger population.

“I do think we spend far too much time focusing on the US and too little time looking at what is happening in Asia and the rest of Europe where there are still some very positive signs.

“The country that matters the most is China because it is the most populous and it’s still got a higher energy intensity in its energy system than the US.

“I try to focus on that country rather than the US. China is adopting a much more long-term view and has the capacity to plan on a longer-term basis, so it’s much more significant what is happening there.”

Worthington says she is still hopeful that the UN climate change agreement to keep global temperatures from growing more than 2°C are realisable.

“I think the Paris goals are challenging. The nice thing about Paris was it set a very clear equation. It basically said we have got to get net zero by the second half of the century.

“We have got to get emissions down as far as possible and we have got to increase sink, the absorption rate of greenhouse gases. We can get going on both sides of that equation on the timescale that has been set out …

“We just need to find the political will to do it and Paris was all about political will. The stars were in line: we had all the right political leaders at the right time. It was a really important marker of progress. It’s not going to be the last word at all and the hard work begins now, but it was a huge boost in terms of momentum and a lot of progress relies on sentiment. Paris was really important in reinforcing the sentiment that we will act.”

Worldwide agreement

But the Labour peer says finding worldwide agreement is never easy, especially at a time when countries such as the US and the UK are showing a renewed commitment to the nation state.

“We are at an interesting time in humanity’s history and maybe one of the side-effects of trying to tackle climate change is we will see global governance emerging and stronger global action with different global actors emerging.

“The human race is slightly behind what we need to do. We are just getting on to the starting line and we need to significantly increase the pace. There is an awful lot of work to be done, but I still remain hopeful we will rise to this challenge collectively.”

Terry Macalister, an award-winning journalist and author of a book on the Arctic, is former energy editor of The Guardian newspaper.

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