The two largest carbon emitters, China and the United States, committed a few days ago to cooperating in the fight against global warming, a rare moment of agreement between the superpower on the rise and the superpower that, in the last century, particularly since the end of the Cold War, has reigned supreme on the planet. Given the two countries do not see eye to eye on most issues, this is good news, since the virtual summit about climate change began this Thursday; about 40 world leaders, including Xi Jinping, were expected to participate.
The American president’s goal is to secure pledges from the world’s largest polluters that will allow greater efficacy in the effort to battle global warming. With this initiative, he also seeks to place the United States once again at the forefront of a crusade that had seemed to be so central during Barack Obama’s presidency, but which Donald Trump renounced when he took office in 2017, even walking away from the Paris Agreement negotiated just two years earlier. Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, has, in any case, proclaimed protection of the environment to be one of the priorities of his administration, as evidenced by his nomination of a heavyweight from the world of American politics and diplomacy, John Kerry, as his special climate envoy. The recent cooperation agreement with China was the result of a visit by the former senator, presidential candidate and secretary of state.
But it is hard to believe that China will make a stronger commitment than its previously announced goal of achieving carbon neutrality in 2060, 54 years after passing the United States as the biggest carbon emitter. In common with many other countries, China’s position is that more developed countries, which benefited from earlier industrialization, should be the first to reduce their carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement, in leaving it up to individual countries to set their own goals, in essence accepted this position, held by China but also by India, the world’s third largest emitting country.
Even if it’s evident that the world needs urgent action to reduce global warming, China’s position is understandable. When one says that China and the United States are the world’s largest polluters, with the former emitting twice as much as the latter, it is worth noting that China has four times the population, which means that the average American is still responsible, on average, for twice as much as the average Chinese. It will take, therefore, a great deal of diplomacy, perhaps even technological support and faster development in China, for Xi to agree on changes to what he had already agreed to prior to this summit.