For the First Time, the US and China Set the Tone on a Global Issue

With the Sino-U.S. Nov. 12 agreement on climate change, for the first time, the U.S. declared it would reduce its 2025 greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels, and pledged to lower carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels. As for China, it formally declared that “around” 2030 it would stop increasing carbon emissions, and that it would plan for nonfossil fuels to be 20 percent of the total energy consumption by 2030.

This agreement has attracted praise from the global community, as the U.S. and China have failed to reach agreements at the past five global climate summits. This is a landmark agreement for human governance on greenhouse gas emissions. If the U.S. and China can reach this kind of agreement, it will also have excellent ramifications for other parts of their relationship.

The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest carbon-emitting nations: They constitute 42 percent of global emissions. These two countries are also the largest developed and developing countries, and in reducing emissions, just about every aspect is very difficult. The two countries have largely different interests on reducing emissions, as this is a relationship with many mutual rivalries. However, without seeing an actual signed agreement, no one can say that anything has actually been achieved.

The statement from Nov. 12 reveals that American and Chinese resolve to handle deep-rooted issues is increasing. Although differences on climate issues are not as pointed as security or political ones, reaching this agreement has a high degree of difficulty. It also helps show the genuine efforts both sides have made toward resolving differences.

China’s commitments to capping carbon emissions will of course put pressure on the restructuring of the domestic natural resource industry, as well as all production industries. Those industries that use a lot of coal or natural resources will be forced to close or largely stop operations, while those companies in the water, wind, solar and nuclear energy industries will benefit. This will help satisfy the public, which has its concerns about pollution and “fog,” but it will be a test for local governments to maintain employment, as well as a test for their budgets.

One should consider how many challenges we have, and that America could be faced with similar prospects. Chinese people bemoan American resolve, but America has shown it is willing to overcome these difficulties in exchange for Chinese efforts. This is an important fact.

This is the first Sino-U.S. agreement aimed at tackling a global problem, and it allows us to briefly feel as though some form of “joint Sino-American leadership” exists. There are many areas where the two sides can both benefit; However, deep-seated suspicions between the two sides usually lead to shelving thoughts about how to unlock these benefits. Both sides worry that they could be too naïve, that giving too much ground could lead to un-necessary burdens in the future.

This climate agreement is compensating for the limited progress in other areas of the Sino-American relationship, and is also becoming a “test area” for the relationship. It could serve as something that could incite more boldness in other areas, or allow for the two sides to attempt more actions, which would benefit the world.

Thus, China says that the U.S. and the European Union are always calling on us to reduce emissions, but we can’t even think about that problem yet. China is still a developing country, and people’s pursuit of a moderate and comfortable living standard is one of its basic rights. We need to balance these rights with many other factors, in a certain order. The West has gradually come to accept that China will do it this way, which shows the victory of the Chinese way. On intellectual property rights and many other areas, Sino-American frictions will follow this rule.

China is an active and responsible developing country. With 1.3 billion people working hard to develop, at the same time, this supersized society hopes to be able to co-exist peacefully with the rest of the world. They believe the world will gradually come to have this attitude toward China.

In the end, we should say this to all domestic high-energy consuming industries and local governments: It is better to start early than late, and this is not the time to turn back.

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