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As the world’s largest developing country, China is playing a leading role in promoting South-South collaboration. NewsChina investigates the major achievements and obstacles of its initiatives to promote South-South cooperation on climate change

By NewsChina Updated Jun.1

On March 1 in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) presented 10,000 clean stoves and 5,000 sets of household solar photovoltaic power generation systems – with a total value of US$3.3 million – to the Myanmar Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. These appliances were later distributed among local residents across 14 provinces within Myanmar. Some of the donation would later be integrated into existing community-based preservation and development programs in Myanmar run by the Global Environmental Institute (GEI), a Chinese environmental NGO.  

Since 2011, Xie said during the hand over ceremony, the Chinese government has provided 700 million yuan (US$101million) overall for South-South climate change cooperation, the sharing of resources and knowledge between the developing countries known as the Global South. In late 2014, China’s vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, announced the provision of US$6 million to support then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in advancing South-South Cooperation on climate change. Again in late 2015, China announced a ground-breaking “China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund” with 20 billion yuan (US$3.1billion), to help other developing countries fight climate change.  

Unlike most previous South-South cooperation donations, which were conducted between governments only, this recent donation to Myanmar was significant in that it demonstrated collaboration by various stakeholders including environmental NGOs from China and Myanmar, an international industry alliance as well as the private sector in addition to the two governments. 

“We are trying to scale up our efforts in promoting our community preservation programs inside Myanmar through this opportunity, and thus hoping the effects of China’s donation to South-South cooperation on climate change could become sustainable,” explained Peng Kui, GEI Program Manager to our reporter.  

“This recent initiative on South-South cooperation on climate change could be a prototype for the cooperation of multinational bodies,” said Zhang Xiaohua, the UN secretary-general’s senior policy adviser on South-South cooperation on climate change to the reporter in mid March.  

Zhang was previously a member of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC), a think tank on climate change in China. In September 2015, he started his present role at the United Nations headquarters, leading promotion and coordination of the United Nations’ South-South Cooperation on Climate Change. 

Earlier this year, in an interview with NewsChina at his office in New York, Zhang Xiaohua talked about the achievements and obstacles of China’s initiative on South-South cooperation on climate change.  
NewsChina: Can you summarize China’s efforts in promoting South-South cooperation on climate change? 

Zhang Xiaohua: The South-South cooperation initiative has been underway for over 50 years. China has always been active in promoting these initiatives. The promotion of South-South cooperation on climate change has been an emerging area in recent decades and China’s first endeavor in promoting South-South cooperation on climate change came with the UN conference on sustainable development in 2012, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced a three-year-plan of 200 million yuan [US$30m] to support other developing countries [including small island countries, least developed countries and African nations] to address climate change. Gradually, the efforts were scaled up. The contribution of US$6 million to the UN to promote South-South cooperation on climate change in late 2014 can be seen as the second key effort made by China in showing its leadership and responsibility in tackling climate change. Then the third large effort was in September 2015 when Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the establishment of a new “China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund” with 20 billion yuan ($3.1bn), to help other developing countries fight climate change. A detailed operational modality of the fund is now being prepared by the NDRC under its Department of Climate Change. 

Basically, these three steps indicate a series of different but continuous efforts in China to South-South cooperation on climate change. 
NC: How has the mechanism of the China-supported UN Climate Change South-South Cooperation Project been operated in previous years. Any achievements or obstacles so far? 

ZXH: For us, one important mission to consider is how we are to make better use of the resources of the UN to lay out a solid basis for future work [of South-South climate change cooperation]. The setting up of the project was a crucial point in supporting the success of the negotiation of the Paris Agreement. I think for us, one of the concrete things that we considered most is the collaboration between the practitioners from developing countries. We are playing a facilitating role rather than directly implementing the project in the respective countries. We do not limit ourselves to disseminating expertise from China only, but try to include many other sound practices from other developing countries as well. We identified the setting up of a platform as our mission. Accordingly, we set up two tasks: first we are trying to enhance intellectual strength and lay out the intellectual bases in understanding on South-South climate change cooperation, so we are working with UN agencies and also with other inter-governmental agencies such as the South Centre.  

Our second task is to be more advocacy-oriented. We collect good practices on South-South cooperation and try to disseminate them through the existing UN channels. So, we do networking to connect practitioners from different developing countries.  

When we compare this to the aid projects conducted by developed countries in developing countries, we notice that they have very well established networks in many developing countries, so they know the needs and know how these methods can be channeled. However, the only network we could resort to is through our embassies. Thus it is a challenge for us to understand their needs and thus be able to fully engage with the partners.  

So far, this is one obstacle we are facing and we use the UN network to organize events to bring practitioners from different countries to come together so they can learn where needs lie. We are in this way marrying up demand and supply. For example, one major event we arranged in this regard was a workshop themed “South Alliance of Climate Friendly Community,” jointly organized with UNDP China.  

To keep the political momentum for South-South cooperation on climate change, we do not limit it to the cooperation between governments, but expand it among all related fields in society, including the private sector, academia and community organizations. We should play a catalyzing role to bring them together, expanding it from government cooperation to a broader sphere.  
NC: Is there any appraisal system for your program so far? 

ZXH: We don’t do on-site projects, for instance, operational projects like wind farms. So there is no concrete evaluation for what we’ve done with the US$6 million. One concrete project that we have done was our work with UNDP to help the African group formulate the Africa Adaptation Initiative before the signing of the Paris Agreement. As I mentioned, we see our role as more of a facilitator, catalyzing the collaboration, but we do not own projects nor are we the implementing agency of any project.  

NC: Do you have any suggestions on the operation of China’s South-South Climate Cooperation Fund? 

ZXH: I think it’s a flagship of China’s efforts to show the country’s responsibility as a member of the international community on the issue of climate change. In the past we used to be a recipient country and did not drive the process of climate negotiations. Now China is being more proactive by operating the South-South Climate Cooperation Fund.  

One of my suggestions is that China can think about various different forms of collaboration for working with others. For instance, what we are doing shows how we can add the additional value of the UN to promote the South-South cooperation on climate change.  

China supports the UN’s multilateralism while developed countries often prefer bilateral cooperation. Frankly speaking, bilateral projects are easy to operate, while multilateral projects enjoy wider influence. For China, it is a very good opportunity to work much more closely with the UN, and to play a much more effective role in the UN as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. 
NC: Will the newly-elected US government have any effect on China’s efforts in this regard? 

ZXH: China’s South-South Climate Cooperation Fund was launched in a joint announcement between President Xi Jinping and then President Barack Obama back in 2015. The newly-elected US government led by Donald Trump is revisiting its climate policy, and it is highly possible that it will backtrack from the US’s previous stance. Despite this, low carbon development now enjoys mainstream global recognition and will not be reversed. This situation is totally different from 15 years ago when the US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. 

Now every country sees the opportunity in signing the Paris Agreement. I don’t see any obvious impact of a change in US attitude upon China’s climate fund. The fund itself is not only an important part of China’s efforts to address climate change, but also part of China’s broader international strategy to promote the collaboration with other developing nations to attain a win-win situation. So I am optimistic about its future operations.

Hand over ceremony of appliances to combat climate change issues in Myanmar, with Xie Zhenhua (third from right) and Myanmar Minister U Ohn Win of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (third from left)