Can Cooperation on Climate Change Transcend the Challenges of U.S.-China Relations?

Climate change working group

Source: Reinvent.net

The relationship between the U.S. and China is fraught with tension, yet it has never been more important for the two countries to work together to solve climate change. The U.S. and China account for around 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, despite difficulties in other aspects of the bilateral relationship, the two countries are cooperating on climate in a myriad of ways that often fly under the radar.

“I have heard from colleagues in the U.S. government that not only is climate change a bright spot, but climate change is the bright spot, and perhaps the only bright spot in the relationship,” said Barbara Finamore, Senior Attorney and Asia Director at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in Reinvent’s recent video conversation.

In the last ten years, China has made great progress in the fight against climate change, including reducing coal consumption for the last two years in a row, after a decade of annual growth of eight percent or more. Mark Clifford, Executive Director of the Asia Business Council, pointed out that while China didn’t make its first wind turbine until the new millennium, it is now one of the the top wind power producing countries in the world (according to 2015 estimates, China ranks first and the U.S. ranks second).

Eighteen months ago, China committed to peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 or earlier. This is especially significant, according to Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, considering that just ten to fifteen years ago, “there was some circumspection in China that the climate change argument was a plot to slow down China’s growth.”

While the agreement that came out of Paris this December is the most prominent example of U.S.-China cooperation on climate, American and Chinese corporations, scientists, and cities continue to work together in ways that often get much less attention.

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