Interview with Jean-Joseph Boillot, specialist in emerging economies, researcher at IRIS, “Utopias made in the world: The sage and the economist”, April 2021 and “Chinindiafrique: China, India and Africa will the world of tomorrow”, 2013, (with Stanislas Dembinski), published by Odile Jacob.
TV5MONDE: President Xi Jinping is not at the COP27 organized in Africa, in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. Is this significant of China’s position on climate issues?
Jean-Joseph Boillot, economist: From my point of view, it is quite clear. It must be understood that the real architect of the climate solution is the G20. The Bali summit (November 15-16) is from this point of view a much more important political meeting.
As a result, China defends a position that I would describe as mischievous: it leaves Africa in command of COP27. Africa has prepared extremely well, it holds most of the keys to this conference. With the absence of Xi Jinping, China will let African countries play on their register knowing that they are 80% on the same wavelength.
Thanks to Africa, the debate has moved to the famous theme of “loss and damage” to know who should pay for the disastrous consequences of climate change.
Jean-Joseph Boillot, economist.
TV5MONDE: How are African countries and China on the same wavelength?
Jean-Joseph Boillot: The first point is the reversal of priorities that have been set by developed countries so far. These had focused on mitigation, ie the reduction of CO2 emissions. Subsequently, under pressure from emerging countries, the priority was adaptation to climate change.
Eventually, mainly thanks to Africa, the debate moved to the famous theme of “losses and damages” about who should pay for the disastrous consequences of climate change. This is exactly the Chinese position since the first COP in 1995. It is in this sense that China and African countries are on the same wavelength.
From the beginning, China has stressed that there is a differentiated responsibility in CO2 emissionsJean-Joseph Boillot, economist.
From the beginning, China has emphasized that there is a differentiated responsibility in CO2 emissions. Therefore, the developed countries must be the first to make the effort to reduce CO2 emissions.
Secondly, for China as for African countries, it is necessary that not only the mitigation, but also the damage linked to the accumulation of greenhouse gases be taken care of financially by the developed countries in a much more serious way .
Finally, a third strong point of convergence is the question of the use of hydrocarbon reserves and in particular of gas as transition energy. On this point Africa, and in particular the Senegalese president and turning point of the African Union Macky Sall decided to insist in Sharm el-Sheikh so that Africa can continue to exploit its hydrocarbon resources. The bundle of Sino-African convergences is therefore quite large.
TV5MONDE: But African countries are not at the same stage of development and industrialization as China, how can they share common interests on climate change?
Jean-Joseph Boillot: As the first emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world, China could have appeared as the number one accused. In reality, it decided ten years ago to make a considerable energy transition effort. China has started sweeping in front of its door.
Today, renewable energies, including wind and solar power, are among the main priorities of the Chinese government. It therefore appears vis-à-vis African countries as making the necessary efforts on its side even though its weight in historical CO2 emissions is half that of the United States (12.7% against 25% and 22% for Europeans).
TV5MONDE: China has promised not to operate any more coal mines abroad, but it continues to extract coal in large quantities on its territory, which has an impact on its CO2 emissions. Despite its efforts, isn’t China still responsible as the world’s largest emitter?
Jean-Joseph Boillot: It is in this sense that the withdrawal of China during the Sharm el-Sheikh conference is important, it recognizes de facto its considerable responsibility in CO2 emissions. At the same time, for some years now it has undertaken a transition to renewable energies, of which it is by far number one in the world. Renewable energies account for more than a quarter of installed power generation capacity in China.
In terms of the market – and this is precisely what it is counting on – this will allow it to respond to post-carbon transition demands all over the world. China’s latest cooperation projects in Africa relate both to hydroelectric dams but also to wind and solar power.
There is a kind of malice on the Chinese side to, in the end, try to appear as the craftsman of the energy transition in poor countries even though it is indeed the first emitter of GHGs and that it will stay that way for a long time.
In addition, it releases money for losses and damages. With Saudi Arabia, Beijing has just announced 14 billion dollars to help Pakistan resolve this terrible crisis linked to the floods. China is itself in the process of putting in place a set of financing in the face of the damage caused by climate change, but on a bilateral level and each time for its own companies.
A typical approach of China which refuses to go through multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF. Here again, China appears to Africa as a country that assumes its responsibilities by releasing funds.
TV5MONDE: Beyond the case of Pakistan, has China already released funds for Africa for the damage caused by climate change?
Jean-Joseph Boillot: On what is called “loss and damage”, apart from Pakistan, I have not seen any other major Chinese funding. But we observe that each time there is a crisis in Africa, this was the case in the Congo for example, China puts funding on the table, sends its rescue teams, and so on.
In fact, the posture of African countries is exactly that of China during the first COP in 1995Jean-Joseph Boillot, economist.
There is a kind of intertwining between the agenda of African countries and the way China repositions itself in African markets. During the years 2000-2020, the priority was ports, mines and hydrocarbon reserves. For 4-5 years, there has been a gradual shift towards carbon transition themes. For example, China now accounts for around 80% of rail financing in Africa.
Through this, she wants to show that it contributes to the energy transition, even if, as in Ethiopia, coal mines are the source of electricity for these railways. But in addition, hydroelectricity is an extremely important sector in Africa and China is present almost everywhere on these sites.
(Re)read: China-Africa: a “mutual benefit”?
TV5MONDE: African countries are claiming the right to exploit their mines and fossil resources, particularly gas, in order to develop? Is China legitimate to hold this same discourse?
Jean-Joseph Boillot: Not today, China being more developed than African countries. In fact, the posture of African countries is exactly that of China during the first COP in 1995. At that time, it affirmed very clearly that economic development was its priority. It expected developed countries to make the necessary effort because of what is called differentiated responsibility.
But China is no longer at this stage of development, it is in a very clear phase of slowing growth. So she supports the position of African countries as hers twenty years ago. It presents itself as an intermediate country but which shares with Africa the same point of view on the overwhelming responsibility of developed countries on climate change.