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

Climate change working group


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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5 Questions: What Does China’s New Five-Year Plan Mean for Climate Action? (WRI)

China has officially unveiled its 13th Five-Year Plan, which will guide the country’s economic and social development from 2016 through 2020. This latest edition builds on progress made over the last five years, and makes clear that environmental stewardship is an increasingly integral component of China’s development.

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Economic Growth and Cutting Carbon

Much of the industry that has left places like England has ended up in places like China. Here, a coal-fired plant in Shanxi. Credit Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Much of the industry that has left places like England has ended up in places like China. Here, a coal-fired plant in Shanxi. Credit Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

by Marjorie Sun, Alliance Executive Director

For the naysayers who argue that cutting carbon will hurt economic growth, take note of two new studies recounted in this New York Times article. The GDP of 21 nations, including the United States, have grown while their carbon emissions have dropped over the past 15 years, says a new study by the World Resources Institute. And China’s emissions might have peaked last year, British researchers said in a second study this week. The operative word is “might” because the Chinese data need to be verified.

NYT: Obama and President Xi of China Vow to Sign Paris Climate Accord Promptly


President Obama with President Xi Jinping of China in Le Bourget, outside Paris, in November during the United Nations climate conference. Photo by Evan Vucci/Associated Press

This just in! President Obama and President Xi Jinping declared that they would sign the Paris Agreement on climate change on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, the first day the United Nations accord will be open for government signatures.

“Our cooperation and our joint statements were critical in arriving at the Paris agreement, and our two countries have agreed that we will not only sign the agreement on the first day possible, but we’re committing to formally join it as soon as possible this year,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where he was meeting with Mr. Xi at the nuclear gathering.

Mr. Obama, who spoke across a table from Mr. Xi, added, “And we urge other countries to do the same.”

Mr. Xi, speaking through an interpreter, said, “As the two biggest economies, China and the U.S. have a responsibility to work together.”

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