From the TUC

Xi Jinping is right: the Paris climate agreement must not be derailed

19 Jan 2017, by in Environment

In an important week for global affairs, Chinese president Xi Jinping has given a major speech at the United Nations in Geneva, arguing that the world must not allow the Paris climate deal to be “derailed”. Demonstrating the neat turn of phrase associated with his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, President Xi said:

“Clear waters and green mountains are as good as mountains of gold and silver. We must maintain harmony between man and nature and pursue sustainable development.”

This speech may come as some surprise to some, given the role that coal-fired power stations have played in China’s economic development. In fact, China has been exploring the green economy for some time. The TUC report, ‘The Way of the Dragon’ (pdf), published in 2013, described how sustainable development has risen up the political agenda in that country. China’s Twelfth Five Year Plan, designed to run from 2011-2015, emphasised high quality growth, including issues such as sustainability, pollution, intensive energy use and resource depletion.

A leading Chinese economist, Dr Hu Angang, who was interviewed for this research, had called for China to move from being a “black cat” to a “green cat”. Playing on Deng’s famous phrase, “It doesn’t matter if China is a black cat or a green cat, so long as it catches mice”, Dr Hu set out how China can move from an economy based on “black fuels” i.e. coal and oil, to one supported by “green fuels”, i.e. non fossil based sources of energy.

The TUC fully supports this agenda of a sustainable industrial transformation. Of course, we have major concerns about the wider nature of the Chinese economy and society. We stand shoulder to shoulder with those campaigning for human and democratic rights in China, including the right to join a free trade union. We are strongly opposed to the ‘dumping’ of Chinese steel and have argued against China being given market economy status, which would allow Chinese goods, in the absence of free collective bargaining and supported by state subsidies, to be sold below cost in Europe, including the UK. But if China makes a positive move, such as defending the Paris Agreement for the good of the planet, we can still welcome that move.

Trade unions will also go on defending that agreement and will consider the practical implications to taking it forward. Our latest report (pdf) calling for a sustainable industrial strategy highlights evidence from Germany and Denmark and their own sustainable industries. Powering Ahead emphasises the need to build consensus across political parties, business organisations and trade unions in favour of a sustainable industrial strategy. This means the strategy must balance economic, social and environmental concerns. This is why we call for a fair or just transition, so that as older, more polluting industries are replaced with newer, cleaner ones, there is an emphasis on job creation and retraining for those whose jobs will disappear as part of the transition.

In particular, we call for a study into the technologies and industries that the UK would need to bring us up to 50 per cent of the UK’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2050. Those new industrial sectors should be targeted on those communities that lost their livelihoods with the demise of heavy industry.

We live in times of great change and great risk, but also great opportunity. The world has woken up to the reality of climate change. It is still waking up to the economic opportunities, as well as the costs, of this phenomenon. China is seeking to make the most of those opportunities. So are Germany and Denmark. It is time the UK did so too.