Why We Need Environmental Diplomacy In Africa-China Relations

Credit: Iwaria

By Orire Agbaje

China faces serious environmental challenges – land degradation, drought, desertification, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and extreme vulnerability to climate change. China is finding that the effects of more than 30 years of high-speed economic growth are forcing it to use more of its resources to deal with environmental issues.

However, in Africa, the environmental problem is caused by the outside world. These two realities have made environmental protection and sustainable development top priorities for both China and Africa. This has made environmental protection an important area for Africa – China cooperation.

Since 2015, China has signed an agreement with five African countries, including South Africa and Ethiopia, and has trained over 900 Africans through workshops on urban environmental management and water pollution control. China has also signed 14 deals on tackling climate change with 13 African nations since 2011. China also made donations of a large amount of equipment to help countries in the continent cope with climate change. This includes more than 10,000 sets of solar photovoltaic power generation equipment and launching a small satellite.

In addition, China and African countries have carried out a series of projects, including meteorological infrastructure, forest protection, biodiversity, disaster prevention, wild animal protection, and environmental personnel training. China has provided training for more than 400 environmental workers from 30 African countries. In the past three years, China has boosted annual spending for environmental protection by $16.1billion.

Climate Policy In China

China possesses three characteristics of the international struggle against climate change:

1) China always sets its principle on “common and differential responsibility.”

2) China chooses the strategy of joining the international regimes against climate change formed by developed countries.

3) China tries its best to avoid any concrete responsibility or burden and insists on the “no regret” principle.

However, evaluating China’s policy regarding climate change in connection to the international regime seems to be a “no regret” policy. Thus, China would not take the burden or full responsibility under the international regime of climate change because that would reduce China’s economic growth.

The majority of African countries are faced with climate change issues. Although Africa contributes about 4% of total greenhouse emissions, the impact will still have a vast effect on essential sectors. China has a signed agreement to help Africa tackle this issue, with the contribution of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).

 Effects Of Sustainable Projects

The relocating of some polluting facilities from China, such as steel, cement, and tanneries, to places like Africa, addresses its domestic industrial pollution. In 2014, Hebei Iron and Steel announced that it is building a plant in South Africa capable of making five million tons annually. This is good for South African jobs but potentially bad for the environment. China has become a major investor in the leather industry in Ethiopia and owns numerous tanneries, which are well known for their pollution potential. Some of their practices have been criticized, owing to the effect it has on the environment and inhabitants.

Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) is concentrated in sectors of the economy that are especially vulnerable to environmental concerns, such as energy, mining, fishing, and forestry. Chinese companies have invested in mines that are sometimes located in ecologically fragile areas where there is a higher risk of environmental degradation. They also often generate greenhouse gases, solid and liquid waste, including hazardous products such as cyanide and mercury.

Chinese fishing vessels have been criticized for worsening food insecurity among Africans because they catch small species that are the main source of food and income for small-scale African fishermen. Another controversial activity from the standpoint of environmental implications is the construction of dams in Africa, but these are done as commercial contracts not FDI. Meanwhile, they have negative environmental implications, but they provide clean power. 

Establishment Of Cooperation Center And Its Effect On Africa

The evolution of China’s environmental protection policy has greatly influenced the country’s environmental cooperation. Recently, there is an establishment of the Africa-China environmental cooperation center in Beijing. This is to increase China’s collaboration with African nations and enhance Africa-China environmental cooperation.  Also, to promote green development, support the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, and the AU agenda 2063. Following the environmental cooperation that is being constructed in Nairobi, the African environment will surely take a positive turn.

The center will become a platform for broad environmental policy dialogue, information exchange, capacity building, and cooperation on green development, directed by both African countries and China.

African environmental law and practice, to the extent one can generalize about 54 different countries, leaves much to be desired. Africa-wide and sub-regional environmental initiatives have suffered as a result of slow policy implementation and inadequate environmental legislation. Institutions at the national and sub-national levels, poor legal enforcement, and insufficient financial and human capacity block implementing the agreements.

China’s environmental minister, Huang Runqiu, said the “environmental sector has become a key field of cooperation between the two sides.” There is widespread agreement that Chinese companies, more than Western companies, need to improve their environmental practices as they invest in Africa.

In conclusion, the need for this relationship cannot be overemphasized. Africa’s environmental problem coupled with the effect of China’s projects will further jeopardize the state of living if it’s not attended to accordingly. There are still missions to be accomplished. The environmental factors shouldn’t be a factor to consider in the long run, if the established center discharges its duty well. It’s a win-win for both parties.

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