Arctic Governance and China´s Engagement

Publication: Arctic Governance and China´s Engagement

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Author: YANG Jian

CNARC member: Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS)

Introduction: In 2004, Gunnar Palsson, Chairman of the Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) of the Arctic Council, travelled to Beijing to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC on behalf of the Council members. He spoke highly of the work of the Arctic Council, especially the leading role it was playing in raising people’s awareness of climate change through the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. The message he was trying to deliver was explicit and straightforward: the Arctic matters to the rest of the world and countries outside the Arctic need to pay attention to the changes in the Arctic. Around 2004, China was the second largest emitter of CO2 after the United States. Therefore, the Arctic countries were very keen to engage China in addressing climate change.

In 2013, together with Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Italy and India, China was granted the formal observer status by the Arctic Council. The representatives from the United States and the Nordic countries played a very important role in the approving process. This move could be considered as an important step for the United States and Europe to succeed in persuading the Chinese government to make further commitments to addressing climate change.

In 2015, the Chinese government took more proactive measures to promote global climate governance, making a historic contribution to the Paris Agreement on post-2020 global cooperation on climate change. In 2016, China officially ratified the Paris Agreement. The Chinese government steadfastly supported the Paris Agreement, even as the Trump administration of the United States set significant obstacles to global climate governance. In September 2020, Chinese leaders announced at the General Debate of the 75th UN General Assembly that China would increase its nationally determined contributions. Since then, the Chinese government has put forward more ambitious goals like reducing carbon dioxide emissions, developing non-fossil fuels and increasing forest stock and has set a timetable for achieving carbon peaking and carbon neutrality. China is shouldering more responsibilities in addressing the challenges of climate change and loss of biodiversity by fulfilling its international commitments.

In the white paper "China's Arctic Policy" released in 2018, the Chinese government has also stated its position on addressing climate change issues related to the Arctic more clearly. “Addressing climate change in the Arctic is an important part of global climate governance. China consistently takes the issue of climate change seriously. It has included measures to deal with climate change such as Nationally Determined Contributions in its overall national development agenda, and has made significant contributions to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement.” In the white paper, the Chinese government reiterated its contributions and responsibilities to climate change related to the Arctic. China’s emission reduction measures have a positive impact on the climatic and ecological environment of the Arctic. Chinese scientific teams have done their best to study the substance and energy exchange process and mechanisms of the Arctic, evaluating the interaction between the Arctic and global climate change, predicting potential risks posed by future climate change to the Arctic’s natural resources and ecological environment, and advancing Arctic cryospheric sciences. China has raised the public’s awareness of the Arctic issues related to climate change through strengthening publicity and education.

In retrospect of the historical process we can draw the following conclusion: since 2004, the Arctic Council has been lobbying big countries outside the Arctic to pay attention to changes in the Arctic for example, the loss of biodiversity, caused by climate change and greenhouse gas emission. In the case of lobbying China, such diplomatic effort has been proven fruitful. It is a remarkable achievement for both the Arctic countries and China, as well as improving the global mechanism to address climate change. (to read more please go to the download link)