The United Nations have finally got the wind in their sails at this years summit. And it's coming from China, says DW columnist Frank Sieren.
It was supposed to be a summit like every year. A few speeches, a few jibes, the outlining of goals that seem unattainable because like in every family there are a few black sheep who refuse to cooperate, and people would have gone home without having reached, implemented, decided or changed anything. That's how UN summits were reputed to go till now. But China and the US have now made steps towards each other regarding the subject of climate change. For a long time, Beijing had refused to agree to any concessions.
It had always used the argument that since the West had already eaten the starter and main course it was not appropriate for China to share the dessert. In short, China wanted fewer climate goals because it was the West that was responsible for most of the greenhouse gases and their harmful effects because of its strong economic development since the beginning of the industrial revolution and should, therefore, bear most of the burden. Now, however, China has moved. President Xi Jinping has announced that China will reduce its CO2 emissions dramatically by 2017. The small-print, however, will only be discussed at December's climate change conference in Paris.
Billions to be invested into poor states
Xi has given one concrete figure - Beijing will invest $3 billion (2.7 billion euros) into helping poor states meet UN climate goals. The US and China will jointly try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Both presidents are under pressure: Barack Obama because he wants some success before leaving office and Xi because the Chinese population are clamoring for clean air. Regardless of China's strong leadership, the environment is a subject that puts social stability at risk. The dissatisfaction of the Chinese population could unhinge the country, and Beijing wants to prevent this at all cost.
China's position in the UN is not only becoming more important because Xi and Obama have decided to act together on the environment; the US can no longer stand alone in matters of world peace. It cannot deal with Syria without China and especially without Russia. This remains true despite the fact that the West has not lifted its sanctions against Russia. There can be no solution without Putin, who is seeking allies to implement his strategy. There was even a cautious nod from German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she said that it was important "to talk with Assad" as well ahead of her trip to New York. China is in favor of talking with everybody, as is Iran whose President Hassan Rohani is glad to be asked to be part of the conversation at all.
China is the most reasonable negotiation partner
NATO member Turkey also has its ideas, which do not tally with Washington's. But Washington has to make do with this constellation of power, even if this does not suit Obama. At the moment, China is one of the most reasonable negotiating partners amid the world's major powers. Perhaps, its adversaries could also benefit from some of the pragmatism of the climate change talks.
DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.