There has been much talk of shifting of power from the West to the East. The rise of China along with India and Japan was taken as 21st century being destined to be the Asian century. But many disruptions have taken place and it looks unlikely that China will achieve the same superpower status as UK did once and the US has done, now, controlling the international system. According to Richard Haass, besides economic and military powers, a superpower needs to have the ability to intervene politically in any part of the world and prove its unparalleled strength. Another qualification is its reach across the globe (apart from being a nuclear power, which China is). China fails on both counts. The second disruption against the “rising China” theory is that more than two powers are emerging in the international system. Middle Powers like India, Germany, Japan, South Africa and a few others are shaping the world system together. Moreover, China is too aggressive. If there is a world order that could be developed beyond the conventional theory of world systems, it is the Green World Order—a world order which creates a pitch for a non-fossil fuel energy system and helps control catastrophic situations. The world is standing on the brink of a collapse. Neither America nor China is interested in safeguarding the world by drawing up a roadmap to a green world order.
There is a Panchatantra story where, during a flood, a tree becomes the shelter for the tiger, the man, the serpent and the peacock. Instead of harming each other, they hang on calmly as they are apprehensive about their existence. Similarly, climate disruptions have pushed different countries to seek shelter on the same tree. The corona pandemic is a harsh reminder of the changes happening. The beginning of Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century in Europe along with the unchallenged charter of individualism created a world order based on consumption, and racial and geographical superiority. This has to change, but which country has the ability to provide shelter like the tree in the flood? It cannot be the United States because it has been the biggest disrupter of the green world. It did not sign the Kyoto Protocol and withdrew from the Paris climate change agreement. China is developing huge infrastructure for green energy especially wind and solar. China produced almost 170 GW of solar energy in 2018, when India was struggling in double digits. But China is of dubious character. It wants to keep its house clean while littering other parts of the world with fossil fuels. Also, the Covid-19 pandemic has completely eclipsed Chinese credentials in the international system. The way China has manipulated the WHO, leading to a cyclical expansion of the pandemic across the globe, its green and humanitarian face has been unmasked. The rest of the countries are not big enough to shape the Green World Order. The only country which shines in this crisis is India. It will have the largest population in the world by 2024. It has democratic credentials and a strong Constitutional framework. The ancient Indian wisdom is based on “Vashudhaiva Kutumbakam” which brings each country into its fold. India has displayed its commitment for the resolution of the Paris Commitment. India’s eight-fold jump in solar energy in the last six years proves a point. India is going to generate more than 450 GW of energy through renewable sources by 2030. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was given “Champion of Earth” award by the UN Secretary General in 2018. He also leads the International Solar Alliance. India has made important progress towards meeting the United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals, notably Goal-7 on delivering energy access. India’s per capita emissions today are 1.6 tonnes of CO2, well below the global average of 4.4 tonnes.
So far world politics has been driven by the greed for oil and gas. The geopolitics of oil embargos are common. UN climate conference has been consistently reminding the big powers to switch from fossil fuel to renewable sources of energy. But things are not moving. The impact of a fossil-fuel economy is more than apparent. The trade war between America and China is pitching for a carbon-led energy system. Climate disruption has reached the tipping point. While the whole world is severely under its grip, Southeast Asia and South Asia potentially will face more severe consequences of climate change than other parts of the world.
CHINA NOT A GLOBAL GREEN POWER
China cannot ever become a green world power. The Climate Action Tracker gives China a very poor grade. China is financing coal-fired power plants outside its borders, so increasing emissions. China remains the world’s largest producer of carbon emissions. It plans to finance and build roads, railways, bridges, ports, and industrial parks abroad—in Central, South, and Southeast Asia and eventually reaching Western Europe and across the Pacific to Latin America. While China has imposed a cap on coal consumption at home, its coal and energy companies are involved in at least 240 coal projects in 25 of the Belt and Road countries, including in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Serbia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. It is eyeing the coal resources of South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Russian Far East. The Chinese political system is not transparent, hence, its next move cannot be predicted. Also, China is more interested in settling “historical” scores after becoming the largest economy, than leading a green world order. China’s intentions are based on self-interest, which will generate more conflicts in the international system.
Inequality and climate change are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, climate change is also related to lifestyle. A western economist, Thorestein Veblen, who coined the terms “conspicuous consumption” and “invidious comparisons” pointed out how individuals use luxury goods to show off their status. The US’ top 10% emit six times more than 50% of the bottom rungs. Adam Smith explained in his book, The Wealth of Nations, that it is industry which is going to make a country rich. But ancient Indian wisdom is opposed to this view. Gandhi once said that India cannot afford to follow the British economic policy of greed. If two thirds of the planet failed to satisfy Britain’s greed, India had four times the population of Britain, so it would need four planets like earth to fulfil the greed. Unfortunately, independent India became a copycat of the western pattern of development. That is why the current government is working on reintroducing India’s ancient wisdom. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has said that climate change is not merely a fuel issue, but has a larger context. Unsustainable consumption is the fundamental cause of pollution and ecological destruction. India has increased its solar-energy capacity more than 12-fold since 2014. India’s stands are not contradictory. It says what it does. Its democratic credentials are well respected. This government has prepared a blueprint for a Green World Order. According to PM Modi it is secure, sure and pure.
Dr Satish Kumar is Associate Professor, MMH College.