With the US pulling out of Paris Agreement, other countries must redouble their efforts to put the brake on global warming
Typhoon Lekima, the worst in terms of economic loss in Chinese history, killed many and impacted millions when it hit eastern China in August. The preceding month, Europe was in the grips of a sweltering heat wave that saw temperatures rise to dangerous levels in the warmest July ever on the continent.
The rising frequency of extreme weather conditions shows how climate change is having serious consequences for the environment. It is clear now that global warming is more than just a few hot summers - it poses an existential risk for humankind.
The recent heat wave in Europe also showed how climate change has economic as well as meteorological implications. The high temperatures saw many trains and flights in France and Britain delayed or canceled. The temperature of rivers supplying cooling water for nuclear power plants exceeded standards, meaning that nuclear power plants in France and Britain had to reduce their power generation. While low water levels inhibited the navigability on rivers such as the Danube, a key European transport artery.
In recent years, forest fires have also become more frequent than ever. The first half of this year saw over 1,400 forest fires in Europe, causing billions of euros of damage.
But Europe's heat wave is just the tip of the iceberg. Data from NASA show that the Earth's average surface temperature has increased by 0.9 C since 1880, causing glacial retreat, melting ice caps, and accelerating desertification.
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that one-fourth of land is threatened by desertification, having the potential to directly affect more than 205 million people.
The rising temperatures are also transforming forests, the "lungs of the Earth", into deserts. This desertification further contributes to climate change. To break this vicious circle, China is taking active measures to address desertification.
In February, NASA released satellite data that show China accounts for one-quarter of the total growth of global green leaf area since the early 2000s. Of this contribution, 42 percent came through forestation programs.
Anti-desertification efforts in the Kubuqi Desert are a successful example of China's leading efforts at global greening. Green leaf area in the desert has now expanded to 6,000 square kilometers, helping fix 15.4 million metric tons of carbon, store 24.4 billion cubic meters of water, and produce 18.3 million tons of oxygen. It also helped bring over 100,000 people out of poverty.
In a recent letter to the seventh Kubuqi International Desert Forum, President Xi Jinping called for concerted efforts by the international community to enhance cooperation, combat desertification and promote global environmental governance.
But despite some progress in raising awareness in recent years, climate change remains a massive threat. The World Meteorological Organization has warned that with continued global warming, extreme weather events will become even more frequent.
As the earth shares one atmosphere, climate change is quintessentially a global problem that can only be solved through multilateral cooperation.
The Paris Climate Agreement was a major step forward in this respect. However, with the exit of the United States, fulfilling the goals agreed on has become all the more difficult. It is now all the more important that other countries double down on efforts to bring about meaningful change. As a rapidly developing country with rising global influence, China can play a significant role in global climate governance.
At home, China should continue its efforts to realize economic restructuring and encourage enterprises to pursue green development. Moreover, China can strengthen exchanges and cooperation with nongovernmental organizations and international think tanks, which will help it reduce emissions and set a model for other developing countries to pursue a green development path.
In 2018, China was one of 17 convening countries that supported the launch of the Global Commission on Adaption. This body has a mandate to strengthen partnerships and the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. The commission also helps countries that are vulnerable to adapt to climate change and pursue sustainable development.
In addition, China should continue to green the Belt and Road Initiative, promoting sustainable development among partner countries. In May 2017, President Xi launched the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition at the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. The Chinese government has issued a series of policies in line with this initiative to embed the concepts of sustainability and low-carbon development into the Belt and Road Initiative.
Climate change is a challenge that all of humankind must work together to overcome. As part of this global effort, China should utilize every resource to prioritize global climate governance and help save our planet by promoting multilateral cooperation on climate change.
The author is president of the Center for China and Globalization. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.