IIA Reports|Global Climate Governance Crisis and China's Climate Diplomacy Response

Briefing  · 2023.02.02

According to a report released by NASA in mid-January this year, 2022 is tied with 2015 as the fifth hottest year since meteorological records began in 1880. 2022 global temperatures are about 1.11 degrees Celsius higher than the average temperature at the end of the 19th century. The data show that global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities have begun to rebound after a brief decline in 2020 due to the new crown epidemic, and the global warming trend is not optimistic.

In the face of the worsening climate problem, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh (COP27) ended on November 20 last year amidst global inflation and economic crisis, with a limited consensus among countries, but without contributing to the achievement of global temperature control targets. The establishment of a "loss and damage" fund, which was widely touted after the conference, is in essence a mere formality, with no real action plan in sight.

This report argues that global climate governance is moving in the direction of "de-realization". There are two reasons for this state of affairs: on the one hand, the "politicization" of climate governance, as reflected in the role played by Western green forces in global climate governance and negotiations; on the other hand, the "moralization" of climate governance, as reflected in the increased focus on issues such as "just transition" and "next generation. On the other hand, the "moralization" of climate governance is reflected in the fact that climate issues will focus more on issues such as "just transition" and "next generation". Under this circumstance, China's climate diplomacy should be both "real and imaginary". Under the principle of not politicizing climate issues, China's "real" climate diplomacy should fully and comprehensively present China's story in data and case studies; while in the "imaginary" climate diplomacy, China's "imaginary" climate diplomacy should be fully and comprehensively presented in data and case studies. In the "virtual" climate diplomacy, we can use Taoism and Confucian ethics to dovetail with Western "moralization" and highlight the universal value of "unity of heaven and man" in Taoism and Confucian ethics. The Western values of China's blockade and isolation can be overcome by using climate issues as a grip.


Substantial regression

The so-called "historic" agreement reached on November 20, 2022, at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, makes the outcome of what was hailed as "Africa's COP" disappointing --The negotiated agreement is not only stagnant but also shows signs of regression. For developing countries in particular, there are signs of regression on two core demands, including further global greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments and the delivery of climate finance [1].


(Source from Reuters)

First, 1.5°C temperature control is difficult to achieve.

The final resolution document reached at the summit says that controlling global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2030 will require "rapid, deep and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions". Yet the current global average temperature has already risen by at least 1.1 degrees Celsius. A recent UN report concludes that with current policies and progress, global temperatures will rise by 2.7°C by 2100 [2].

Although all countries recognize the urgency of reducing emissions, a comparison of the draft texts before and after the summit shows that progress on the reduction plan is extremely limited. Compared to the text of the Glasgow climate agreement, this resolution document has an energy component that amounts to a step forward and a step backward, changing the phrase "phase-down" to "phase-out". This is a step forward; however, the addition of a "rationalize" inefficient fossil subsidies to the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies is also a compromise by the summit with the oil producing countries, which is another step back.

The global energy crisis caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine has caused the energy transition to stumble. Some Western countries have turned to coal and oil to fill the energy gap because of the lack of cheap natural gas. Despite strong calls at COP26 to stop public investment in the coal sector, global public investment in fossil energy products in 2021 is double that of 2020 (see Figure 1). The number of COP27 attendees directly related to fossil energy rose from 503 in 2021 to 636, a number second only to the delegation from the United Arab Emirates, which was described in the media as "the explosion of the fossil industry lobby at COP" [3].


Figure 1: Trends in public investment in major energy products (coal, electricity, gas, oil) and oil price volatility in 82 economies

(Chart source OECD)

Second, climate finance assistance is difficult to deliver.

In 2009, developed countries agreed to provide $100 billion per year in climate action financing to developing countries by the end of 2020. Later, that commitment also became a key component of the Paris Agreement in 2015. According to data published by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in 2021, the amount of climate aid coming out of developed countries has been increasing since the Paris Agreement was signed, but none of it has reached the $100 billion commitment, and the rate of increase has been decreasing each year, with 2019 seeing only a 2% increase over the previous year. Annual climate aid from developed countries has grown from $52.4 billion in 2013 to $79.6 billion in 2019, which is still over 20% short of the $100 billion target (Figure 2). However, even if this $100 billion commitment is met, it is only a fraction of the funds needed to address climate change in less developed countries, and it is almost impossible to further increase aid funding based on the current compliance status of developed countries.


Figure 2: Climate finance from developed countries to developing countries, 2013-2019 (USD billion)

(Figure source OECD)


Formal "progress"

Africa, with less than 4% of global CO2 emissions, is highly vulnerable to the climate crisis [4]. The same is true for South America and the Pacific Island countries. Morally, these low- and middle-income countries should not have to bear the climate risks and threats for high-income countries that have already industrialized. The idea of an international insurance fund to compensate small island developing states for the impacts of sea-level rise was first proposed by the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu back in 1991. Since then, developing countries have pressed on in climate negotiations, but there has been no progress. It was at COP27 that this demand made formal "progress".

COP27 agreed on a "loss and damage" fund to compensate developing countries for loss and damage caused by climate change. The General Assembly said "this is a step in the right direction and has been encouraged and supported by developing countries". However, the specific implementable programme, i.e. how compensation will be implemented, was deferred to COP28 in 2023. There was no agreement on how large the financial flows would be, who would pay for them, and the most critical issue - who would control and manage them - and the statement did not address it. Also, because there is no clear official definition of "loss and damage," there is no clear line between funds used to support this issue and funds used to support humanitarian assistance: assistance is primarily a response to incidents and is more focused on funding gaps and ensuring that earmarked funds are not misappropriated or otherwise labeled, while addressing loss and damage covers not only rapid response, but also proactive measures such as emergency funds and insurance, with a focus on resource mobilization and support for vulnerable communities [5]. One of the implications of this lack of definition is that it is difficult to clearly label and describe "loss and damage" funds in the official financial information currently available to the public, making it difficult for the public or institutions and organizations concerned with this issue to use relevant data and cases for in-depth analysis and resolution. In other words, the implementation and monitoring of the "loss and damage" funds is basically difficult to implement.


(Source from Associated Press)

Second, the first side event on Just Transition saw a wide divergence of views on the topic.

At the conference, the European Commission and the International Labor Organization (ILO) also co-hosted the first Just Transition side event at the annual UN climate conference, which established the Just Transition Work programme for the first time. The Just Transition Work programme was established for the first time.) The summit resolution also expressed support for Just Transition, supporting developing countries on the road to energy and industrial transformation, while taking into account social welfare and social communication, and agreed to hold annual ministerial roundtables dedicated to this issue. However, the lack of inclusion of "labor rights" and "human rights" in the summit resolution indicates that there are major differences among countries on the issue of "just transition". The inclusion of "Just Transition" further enhances the moral character of the Summit and strengthens the moral voice of the ILO and other organizations.

In addition, the conference featured the first side event on "Children and Youth".

For the first time, COP27 is offering a side event for youth and children to give children and youth a voice to empower them to participate in climate action. The side event was organized and run by youth, with autonomous working groups and events. This further highlights the moral high ground of the global response to climate change, namely for the benefit of the next generation. But the "moralization" of climate issues does not represent progress from the perspective of climate negotiations. In the short term, this "moralization" will remain more at the level of public opinion and will inevitably become a formality. This politicization of the left-right dichotomy is likely to hinder the substantive progress of climate governance.


The New Landscape of Global Climate Governance: "De-Realization"

(A) Why "de facto": the escape forced by reality

First, the impact of the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

The Russian-Ukrainian war caused damage to Russian gas pipelines to Europe, prompting many European countries to expand their domestic fossil fuel reserves in the short term. This means that oil and gas producing countries are increasingly influential.

Moreover, the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war has led to a 10% drop in EU natural gas carbon emissions. However, the replacement of natural gas with coal in the EU consumed more energy, resulting in a 6.7% increase in carbon emissions from coal [6]. The inability of individual countries to offset rising global emissions by decarbonization is reflected in the watered down text of the summit resolution. The inclusion of a clause promoting "low emissions and renewable energy", despite the summit's pursuit of "zero emissions", is reflected in the use of the term "low emissions", reflecting the summit's compromise with the European energy crisis. Europe's energy crisis is a compromise, or more accurately, an endorsement of natural gas, which, while cleaner than oil and coal, is still a fossil fuel. World leaders are too busy dealing with escalating energy prices and the high cost of living to take bold action on phasing out fossil fuels.

Second, the impact of the global inflation and economic crisis.

In January 2023, the World Bank's latest comprehensive study, "Global Recession Looms," showed that the world could be headed for a global recession in 2023 as central banks have raised interest rates in response to inflation.

The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) World Economic Outlook report, released last October, shows that global inflation will rise from 4.7% in 2021 to 8.8% in 2022, but will fall to 6.5% and 4.1% in 2023 and 2024, respectively [7]. Meanwhile, global economic activity is generally slowing and more severely than expected, and inflation is at its highest level in decades. Countries are facing a cost-of-living crisis and a tightening financial environment in most regions, coupled with the Russian-Ukrainian war and the continued mutation and spread of the new crown strain-all of which elevate the risks to the economic outlook.


(B) Why "to the void": the "politicization" and "moralization" of the climate issue

First, the "politicization" of the climate issue and the influence of the Western "Greens" on policy directions.

The EU plays a key role in setting and developing the political agenda on climate, mainly in the following two aspects: within the EU, the European Greens advocate for a more democratic and transparent European mechanism, including strengthening the powers of the European Parliament and overseeing the drafting process of the European Commission's decrees; at the global level, the EU advocates for a "normative force" in all international climate negotiations. At the global level, the EU has advocated a "normative force" for climate change mechanisms in all international climate negotiations.

Germany's Green Party is a left-wing force to be reckoned with in Western politics, directly influencing German domestic and foreign policy making. With regard to climate change and environmental protection, the German Greens want to have a constructive dialogue with China, while emphasizing that climate change cannot be tackled at the expense of third countries or "human and civil rights". In the constructive cooperation between Germany and China, the German coalition government is very interested in working together with China on global issues such as ecological protection, climate change, and carbon neutrality, which is why the Green Party leaders emphasize that "we cannot cut ties with China". The issues of climate change and ecological protection will be a breakthrough for the German government to open further cooperation between China and Germany.

The U.S. has also become very "politicized" on climate issues, with the two parties taking almost opposite approaches to the issue. Republican Donald Trump once led the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, while the Democratic Party's Joe Biden returned the United States to the agreement after taking office, and a possible change of hands in the U.S. election two years later may cause the United States to withdraw again. In the United States, the "politicization" of climate issues is not only domestic, but also in its foreign policy, as reflected in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) [8].


(Source from Reuters)

The Inflation Reduction Act, which will take effect in August 2022, is divided into two parts, "cutting back" and "water transfer," with the aim of reducing inflation levels and mitigating climate warming. The climate policy component is reflected in the "water transfer" section, which allocates $433 billion to various areas focused on climate change measures, with the final surplus of about $300 billion of the $740 billion in revenue being the reduced government deficit. In order to achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40% in 2030 compared to 2005, $369 billion will be allocated to improve "energy security and climate change". This means that new energy industries will be developed and more attention will be paid to energy security. The Biden administration is eager to pursue a strategy of global leadership on climate change, given the primacy of political interests and ideology over climate change issues in the U.S. political arena. The bill itself will be implemented with uncertainty and risk in the polarized politics of the two U.S. chambers.

Second, the "moralization" of the climate issue has brought justice issues to the fore.

In the process of "moralizing" the global climate issue, the issues of just transition and the next generation are attracting more and more attention. The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals has been hampered by the widespread phenomenon of procedural injustice and asymmetry of rights and obligations.

The emergence of the COP26 Declaration on Just Transition has raised the visibility of the term just transition. Just transition can be traced back to the labor movement of the 1970s, when the United States and other countries began to seriously regulate polluting industries while recognizing the devastation to the "people" and "communities" that depend on them for their livelihoods. "Just Transition grew from a local labor movement to a global one, when at COP24 in the Polish coal town of Katowice, governments around the world adopted the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration), stating that "the creation of quality jobs, and quality jobs, is critical to ensure public support for long-term emissions reductions and climate-resilient development, and to enable countries to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement [9]."

Table 1: Timeline for the development of Just Transition




U.S. local pollution industry regulation and labor movement


U.S. unions and environmental groups seek solutions to local pollution problems and labor.


Apollo Alliance, bringing together more than 200 labor, environmental, business and social justice groups to solve problems.


Just Transition crosses from the local labor movement to the global stage, with the adoption of the Silesian Declaration of Solidarity and Just Transition by governments around the world at COP24 in the Polish coal town of Katowice.


COP26, 16 North American and European countries sign the Just Transition Declaration.


COP27, the European Commission and the International Labor Organization (ILO) co-host the first Just transition side event at the annual UN climate conference.

(Figure source IIA)


How China should conduct climate diplomacy: A mix of reality and fiction

First, the principle of climate diplomacy is depoliticization.

The politicization of the climate issue seems inevitable in the Western world, and even globally. Just as universal values such as democracy and freedom were and are dominated by the West, the climate issue will also become a value to be politicized. Today, the West is using the politicization of these universal values to constantly suppress China, interfere in China's internal affairs, and create a global confrontation between the West and China, i.e., so-called democracy versus "autocracy" and freedom versus "closedness". In such a Western discourse system, our words are very weak and hardly listened to in the mainstream of Western public opinion.


(Source from hk01.com)

In the face of an unfriendly external environment, we should change our mindset in dealing with climate issues and conducting climate diplomacy, avoid politicizing climate issues, and the focus of diplomacy should be on what not to do and what not to say.

On the one hand, we should not subjectively use climate as a diplomatic tool. For example, when former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, the last countermeasure was to "suspend U.S.-China climate change talks. Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is a very serious political and diplomatic event, another serious provocation of the U.S. attempting to use Taiwan to control China and create cross-strait conflict, and we must resolutely counter it. However, we need to think further about the means of countermeasures, especially when it comes to a typical global public good like the climate issue. In this case, the "suspension of U.S.-China climate change talks" as a countermeasure does not seem to have had much effect on the U.S., but has instead created concerns in the Western world that China will link Taiwan to other global public issues in the future. The politicization and ideologization of economic, trade and military issues is a common tactic used by the United States and the West, but these practices are beginning to be frowned upon by the international community and the vast majority of countries, which have already expressed various forms of non-cooperation in their actions.

Therefore, China should resolutely avoid politicizing global climate governance, an issue that is clearly a global public good, and should not instrumentalize it as a diplomatic tool. We should insist on not considering climate issues as a diplomatic tool in our diplomatic practice, just as we insist on "non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries".

On the other hand, it is important to convince others that we are not using the climate issue as a diplomatic tool. This is arguably the biggest challenge for our climate diplomacy, because the results of the long-term negative propaganda by the Western mainstream media are difficult to change in the short term. Therefore, in climate diplomacy, we need to adjust our approach to propaganda, especially to distinguish between internal and external discourse. We need to maintain the mentality of "trembling and trembling on thin ice" to avoid leaving room for politicization and ideologization by the West due to excessive propaganda by the party and government.


Second, the means of climate diplomacy should be "both real and imaginary".

Under the multiple crises, such as the Russia-Ukraine war, inflation and economic recession, global climate governance has been moving away from the real to the imaginary. How long this change will last may depend on the timing and effectiveness of the global response to other crises, but the general direction of addressing climate change and reducing carbon emissions is irreversible, which means that our climate diplomacy should be "both real and imaginary", not only to tell the story of China's climate governance practices, but also to tell the story of our common green and low-carbon values with the Western world. We should not only tell the story of China's climate governance practices, but also our shared green and low-carbon values with the Western world.


First, in order to do a good job of "real" climate diplomacy, we need to make China's story data and case studies.

The various cases of China's climate governance practices, both successful and unsuccessful, are key materials for our climate diplomacy, and we should data and case study these materials and present them on the right occasion through the right organization. We believe that the key is to grasp the following two issues: first, what to speak about, and second, who to speak about. What to tell? The climate governance story we want to tell should fully reflect the diversity, not only the diversity of climate governance subjects, but also the diversity of climate governance fields, which are essentially the characteristics and advantages of our Chinese story. One point that deserves special emphasis, and one that we have relatively avoided in the past, is that we should not only tell the successful cases, but also the failed experiences, and reflect China's three-dimensionality in climate diplomacy, so as to change the Western world's stereotype of China and, in turn, enhance the credibility and credibility of the Chinese story.

Who will tell it? This is a critical question, as it will have a direct impact on the impact of the Chinese story itself. Western societies and their influences around the globe have developed a solid anti-authoritarian mindset since World War II, with a natural resistance to top-down information. This is diametrically opposed to our cultural and political-social traditions. However, simply highlighting our differences with the West in terms of cultural and social differences will not enhance mutual understanding. We therefore need to re-examine our diplomatic strategy from a Western perspective, especially with regard to the new topic of climate change, which is now common to the world. We can try to open up a bottom-up advocacy path, i.e., telling the story of China's climate governance through NGOs, businesses, academia and local governments. Take NGOs as an example, after our research, we found that many local and foreign NGOs are already doing a lot of work on environmental protection and climate change in China, which can be their stories to tell to the outside world, and these stories are more easily understood and received by parties around the world.

Second, for the "false" climate diplomacy, Taoist and Confucian ethics can be used to counter the Western "moralization".

The climate issue itself is a scientific issue, while the resulting issue of addressing climate change is more of an economic, technical and social issue. Nowadays, as the discussion on climate change deepens, "justice" and "the next generation" have gradually become the focus of the international community's attention, or have become the basic premise for the practice of climate change, and the climate issue has slowly become a moral issue, or even a religious issue. The climate issue is slowly becoming a moral issue, and even a religious issue. This is a trend that deserves our attention. Once it comes to values, there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between us and the West. But in terms of addressing climate change and promoting green and low-carbon sustainable development, our Confucian culture in fact has the same core as the just transition and sustainable development advocated by the West today.

The issue of addressing climate change is essentially a discussion of the balanced development of man and nature/the earth, which is itself a fundamental issue discussed by Taoism and Confucianism, namely the relationship between heaven and man. Taoism and Confucianism have always advocated the "unity of heaven and man", not considering man and nature as dichotomous subjects, and emphasizing that man can pursue the harmony and unity of man and nature by understanding the objective laws of the world. Taoism advocates that nature and human beings are one, that human beings are part of nature, and that human beings have no right to destroy nature. Confucianism respects and reveres the laws of nature, but at the same time affirms man's subjective initiative to understand the world, not to transform it. The "middle way" of Confucianism is expressed in the relationship between human beings and nature as an idea and concept of moderation, i.e., a seemingly simple but scientific ecological ethic based on the principle of "taking in moderation and using in moderation". Confucianism requires humans to take care of and cherish natural resources and the environment, and to develop and use them in a restrained manner in order to maintain the sustainability of all things in the world and the sustainable use of human beings. Confucianism's ethics of unity and moderation are in line with the "nature-based solutions" prevalent in Western societies today.

It is theoretically feasible to use Taoism and Confucian ethics as core values to address the "moralization" of the current climate issue. However, in practical climate diplomacy, it is important to note that we should avoid emphasizing the Chinese characteristics of Taoism and Confucian ethics as much as possible, and instead highlight the universal values of the various perspectives of Taoism and Confucian ethics, especially the common knowledge and understanding of Confucian ethics in the greater Confucian cultural circle. We should jointly advocate the green and low-carbon values based on Confucian ethics and dovetail with the core values of the West, and use the climate issue as a grip to get rid of the value blockade and isolation of the West from China in a real sense.




[1]Roadmap to US$100 Billion. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/climate-finance-roadmap-to-us100-billion.pdf


[2]The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/


[3]Taiwan Environmental Information Association, "The Ultimate Dilemma of the Climate Conference: Unstoppable Fossil Energy and Slow Energy Transition", published on Yahoo News on December 6, 2022.


[4]Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations, "Remarks by Ambassador Dai Bing at the UN Security Council Briefing on 'Climate and Security in Africa', published October 12, 2022. http://un.china-mission.gov.cn/hyyfy/202210/t20221013_10782602.htm


[5]Maslin Mark, Parikh Priti, Taylor Richard, Chin-Yee Simon , “COP27 will be remembered as a failure – here’s what went wrong”. Published on November 21, 2022. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/cop27-will-be-remembered-as-a-failure-heres-what-went-wrong-194982


[6]European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI),“The COP27 Climate Change Conference Status of climate negotiations and issues at stake”. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2022/733989/IPOL_STU(2022)733989_EN.pdf


[7]International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook, “Countering the cost-of-living crisis,” October 2022.



[8]美国国税局(IRS). https://www.irs.gov/inflation-reduction-act-of-2022


[9]Makower Joel (2021). "Just transition' is the new ‘net zero." Greenbiz.





Mr. Huang Zilan:Research Assistant at the Institute for International Affairs, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.


Dr. Huang Ping:Associate Research Fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, the Institute for International Affairs, Director of the Research Center for Technological Innovation and Sustainable Development, and Academic Director of the Center for Advanced Public Administration Training Programs.



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