The US-China Climate Agreement Is Imperfect – But Reason To Hope | Sam Geall – Community News
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The US-China Climate Agreement Is Imperfect – But Reason To Hope | Sam Geall

lIt could have been so much worse. At this critical juncture, talks between the world’s two carbon superpowers — collectively responsible for some 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions — could easily have turned into a game of blame, and a deadlock that would have seriously hampered global efforts. Instead, the surprising agreement between China and the US announced Wednesday night offers renewed hope for joint leadership. After the pulse-pounding years of Donald Trump’s presidency and the impact of Covid-19 on the negotiations themselves and those poor countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis, confidence in multilateralism is at stake.

The new agreement is far from perfect and does not go far enough. Despite promises to work together to reduce methane emissions, the details in the plan are patchy and need more substance. It may even risk distracting from the multilateral work needed in these crucial final moments of the UN-led Cop26 talks. But it remains important, even inspiring, to see new collaborations emerge. The US and China climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua shared warm words, with the latter announcing that “there is more similarity between China and the United States than divergence”.

The two men have a long working relationship, and they deserve credit for signing the Paris Agreement and the joint US-China announcement in 2014, which helped lay the diplomatic foundations for it. Their cordiality certainly contrasts sharply with the words of US President Joe Biden. Just a week earlier, at a press conference in Glasgow, Biden referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin when he said, “They didn’t show up… It’s a huge issue and they just walked out.” How do you do that and claim to have some leadership mantle?”

So, what has changed? No doubt not much. The story that China was “missing” at Cop26 has always been a red herring, based on a misreading of Xi’s absence – a decision clearly motivated by concerns over coronavirus transmission (arguably well-founded) and likely domestic political events – rather than any punch. Diplomatic work apparently continued behind the scenes, building on Kerry’s visits to the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Tianjin earlier in the year. Now neither side has to go home empty-handed and they can avoid the caustic accusation that they either screwed up the talks, or failed to bring their biggest rival to the negotiating table.

The creation of a joint “working group for strengthening climate action in the 2020s” is also more interesting than it might seem at first glance. In 2014, a bilateral climate announcement by Barack Obama and Xi Jinping was not only an important symbolic gesture that the world’s two largest carbon polluters were ready to work together on a new treaty, it also kicked off a substantive program of joint technical work on clean energy collaboration and more.

This seems to be breathing new life here, in a statement pointing to the two countries’ intentions to work together on crucial industrial challenges, such as green design, resource reuse and direct air capture of carbon dioxide. As Kerry put it in his remarks in Glasgow, these are pressing issues of ‘math and physics’ worldwide, rather than politics.

But of course it’s political – and that’s why it’s important, if only as a floor for ambition, not the ceiling. The announcement sets the right mood for Xi and Biden’s virtual meeting next week, but US-China relations are not likely to return to the deal Obama and Xi reached anytime soon. In most other arenas, from commerce to cyber to Taiwan, the country’s leaders are likely to find that their interests and values ​​remain at odds. New conflict zones reflect a deep, tectonic shift in the geography of world power — not problems likely to be resolved in the short or medium term.

But the climate emergency requires much greater urgency — eight years to halve global emissions, according to the UN — and action to address it requires ambition and coordination. The announcement disregards claims that China is only engaging in climate cooperation to make concessions in other areas, such as human rights. Rather than being “sucked” into taking it easy on China, the US appears to have followed its foreign policy toward China in other areas, while recognizing that the two countries have a common interest in addressing the emergency. in the field of climate.

Significantly, in his Cop26 press conference, Kerry cited the critical 1986 meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik that ushered in the process of nuclear disarmament. To extend the analogy, the US and China may need to recognize that in the current geopolitical climate — the cold war may be an imperfect analogy, but it’s not that far off — strategic rivalry will be a constant. But their common interests in climate security require ongoing trust-building, coordination and technical exchange, just as arms control was constantly being worked on in the late 1980s, even at points of high tension.

In the near future, competitive and cooperative dynamics in the field of climate will have to coexist. In fact, a race to the top, where healthy competition for the deployment of clean technology takes place in emerging global markets that urgently need new investment in infrastructure, should be welcomed by all. The hope in this new agreement is that it will be possible to create space for strife and rivalry without taking the planet hostage.

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