Low point, high expectations
LI XIN/FOR CHINA DAILY
The world is running out of time. China and the US must cooperate if Paris climate deadline is to be met
Relations between the United States and China have seen ups and downs since they were normalized. But the relationship is now close to its lowest possible point. How can the two countries cooperate on climate change when they seem to be so starkly at odds in other critical areas of engagement?
Other global challenges make the need for cooperation between the great powers even more urgent. The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over. Skyrocketing energy prices have yet to be brought under control. The Ukraine crisis has exacerbated global food insecurity.
Climate cooperation could serve as a positive example of the magnanimity that is needed in these difficult times.
The latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report states that the world needs to peak greenhouse gas emissions in the next three years, otherwise it will be too late to meet the Paris Agreement's 1.5 C target.
But as US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry pointed out, global "emissions were up by 6 percent in 2021, while coal usage expanded by 9 percent. This is unacceptable".
Let's face it. Without climate cooperation between the US and China, the world can hardly move the needle. The two countries are now competing in almost every area. In general, competition between the two largest economies is to be encouraged in a market-based economy; it can spur innovation and increase efficiency. But the gains from competition can be enhanced by cooperation, bringing even greater benefits to the world economy and directly promoting climate safety.
June 5 marks the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The Stockholm Declaration placed environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns. Today, climate change is clearly the most crucial concern the international community faces. The Stockholm Declaration reminds the world that successful cooperation can take place between countries with differences. The US and China should continue to carry forward this legacy as the two largest carbon emitters.
The 2020 US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s stated that the US and China "recall their firm commitment to work together and with other parties to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement".
How should the US and China cooperate on climate issues going forward? Xie Zhenhua, the Chinese Special Envoy for Climate Change, cut to the chase at the WEF summit. "It isn't about words anymore. It is about action. Action, now, is critical."
Since President Biden took office, Xie and Kerry have signed two joint statements addressing the climate crisis, one on April 17 and the other on Nov 10, 2021. The April 17 agreement included the decarbonization of industry and power; renewable energy; green and climate resilient agriculture; energy efficient buildings; green, low-carbon transportation; reducing emissions of methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases; international civil aviation and maritime activities; and reducing emissions from coal, oil and gas.
In Glasgow, the two climate envoys signed a declaration on Nov 10 at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP 26), in which they stated their agreed intention to cooperate on regulatory frameworks and environmental standards; the clean energy transition; the decarbonization and electrification of end-use sectors, the circular economy; carbon capture, utilization and storage and direct air capture.
The list of key climate areas for cooperation is truly impressive if they are put into action. Unfortunately, nearly none has seen any action so far.
Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at Harvard University, who has been studying Chinese energy policy for more than two decades, complained that "the cooperation and coordination between China and the United States ... is fading". In testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on March 17,2022, the two nations announced the establishment of a commission to work on the Joint Glasgow Declaration. "But nobody has been appointed to it", and there has been "no discussion in either country on what they want to do with it." He further mentioned that even academic dialogue between the US and China has "proved to be much more difficult" than before.
The US and China should find a way to cooperate and meet the high expectations of the international community even when the two nations are at a low point of their relations.
The world does not need another lofty goal. There are already plenty of goals that can guide climate cooperation. What is needed is for the two great powers to work together, implement plans and deliver results.
The author is principal of the Innovative Green Development Program and senior adviser to the Climate Change and Energy Transition Program of the Institute of Energy at Peking University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
Contact the editor at email@example.com