Projects that help rebuild trust in politics are “not worth embarking on” unless they include China, according to a leading climate change diplomat.
John Ashton, who was the UK Foreign Office’s special representative on climate change from 2006-12, said the current economic, social and environmental challenges required strong political leadership from all nations – but that it is what China, the world’s second-largest economy, does that really matters.
Speaking in Westminster at the launch of the website Chinadialogue’s latest journal, Advancing sustainable business in China, Ashton said, “There has been a breakdown of trust between those who are being acted upon and those who are doing the acting.
“We live in a moment in history when we have never had a greater need for politics that works. And you can’t have politics that works if there is no trust. So the biggest challenge in politics is therefore how to rebuild trust – within countries and between countries, both at the same time.”
Ashton, who also co-founded the thinktank Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G), used fracking – which he has publicly attacked in the past – as an example. He explained how the issue “dramatises” and “amplifies” this lack of trust in politics.
“For most people in our country, politics is not something we do together to build a better future; politics is what a small group of people is doing to everybody else, primarily on the basis of its own assumptions – which are not shared by everybody else – and in its own interests”, he said.
But China, he added, was central to this shift in thinking. Though the country recently announced plans to set legal limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 2016, it is still building new fossil fuel infrastructure at an alarming rate.
This is despite its major cities being plagued by levels of pollution far higher than what is considered safe for human health.
“In any project that builds trust internationally, it’s really not worth embarking on unless it includes China”, Ashton claimed.
“The choices that China makes over the next generation are going to have as big an impact, or a bigger impact, on the lives of people everywhere, than the choices of any other major society, economy or culture also makes.”
Isabel Hilton, the editor of Chinadialogue, echoed Ashton’s words in the new journal’s introduction. She wrote, “China is a fast moving laboratory of the future; the decisions that are made in China – and by China’s business – affect us all.”
Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr