As the US and China Join Hands, Is an Agreement on Reducing Worldwide Emissions Still Distant?

According to reports, on Sept. 25 President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama together issued a U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change from Washington, D.C. As a continuation of the historic U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change from November 2014, the statement adds a “second layer of insurance” to cooperation on climate change between the two nations. Apart from reiterating several core principles contained within the previous announcement, the new statement punctuates the two leaders’ determination to push for a new agreement at the United Nations climate change conference set for Paris at year’s end.

China and the United States are the world’s largest and second largest greenhouse gas-producing countries respectively. Without firm resolve from both, it will be difficult to motivate other nations to raise their standards and proactively strengthen their own targets for reducing emissions. Within the new joint statement, the United States and China continue to affirm “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” with an emphasis on the need to take into consideration separate national circumstances.

But at the same time, in an environment where reaching an agreement on reducing global emissions has been slow in coming, the two nations have taken it upon themselves to bear this responsibility and set an example for other nations to follow.

The new statement also included renewed promises by the United States to donate $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund and by China to set aside 20 billion Renminbi or RMB ($314 million) for the establishment of a “China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund” to support other developing nations in combating climate change, including increasing their access to Green Climate Fund resources. This type of “relay” model for aiding and cooperating with others will afford developing nations more flexibility and feasibility in green and low-carbon development and the transition to climate resilience. If this synergy can be maintained in practice, collaboration here will open up new cooperative paradigms for the two nations to share responsibilities in global governance in the future.

In the field of climate change, if the United States and China’s collective actions can induce other nations around the world to become more proactive in bearing responsibility, the likelihood of reaching an agreement to cooperate on climate issues on a global scale will be magnified manifold, and we may also see substantive breakthroughs in the structure of global governance on climate change.

Within the new joint statement, both presidents also reaffirmed their “determination to move ahead decisively to implement domestic climate policies, to strengthen bilateral coordination and cooperation, and to promote sustainable development and the transition to green, low-carbon, and climate-resilient economies.” This signifies a new direction for the United States and China as these two large societal systems take another step toward coordination and cooperation on climate change, constituting another tangible collective interest on which to build the two nations’ framework of a new model of major power relations.

The new joint statement also includes a dedicated section for “advancing domestic climate action,” the emphasis upon which is an important update to the previous announcement and looks to re-energize each nation’s regulatory efforts within their own societies. Under this framework of bilateral cooperation, China plans to launch a national carbon emission trading system in 2017 that will cover the iron and steel, electric, chemical, construction material, and paper-making industries. Even more importantly, the Chinese government views this cooperative effort as a turning point for taking international standards and internalizing them. This will indubitably be of great aid to accelerating the Chinese economy’s transition to a green, low-carbon model, as well as the establishment of its “ecological civilization.”

Within the United States, those opposed to Obama’s emissions reduction agenda often seek to shirk the nation’s responsibility in that regard. That China has boldly shouldered its own responsibility in the new joint statement will put greater political pressure on those elements. While Obama has utilized his executive authority as president to push his plans forward in the face of opposition from Republicans in Congress, progress has been difficult. The new joint statement will serve as potent ammunition for him to more forcefully speak out in favor of reducing emissions.

The only path to resolving the difficult issue of the modern world’s carbon emissions lies in establishing a unified aggregate global carbon emissions cap-and-trade system. But on that issue, the United States in the past has lagged far behind the other developed nations. Now, as the world’s largest developing nation, China is meeting the challenge head on and hopes to carry along all of American society with it as it moves forward. As stated by the U.S. media, the ball is once more in the United States’ court.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply