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Expert Despite the tensions, the United States and China can cooperate on climate

Profile photo - John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, with Xie Zhenhua, Special Envoy for Climate Change in the People's Republic of China, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, May 24, 2022.
Profile photo – John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, with Xie Zhenhua, Special Envoy for Climate Change in the People’s Republic of China, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, May 24, 2022.

In a recent series of meetings that brought together U.S. and Chinese officials, as well as other world leaders, experts say the two countries can cooperate on climate change despite lingering tensions.

The two largest economies are the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, but they are also competitors as China seeks to expand its global influence. Tensions have also been exacerbated by policies toward Taiwan, which Beijing views as a divided province.

Belinda Schöpe, E3G’s climate diplomacy researcher in London, said that despite geopolitical tensions, working together to implement the agreement at the recent G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, could be the first step. E3G is a research group focused on cooperation between China, the EU, and the United States.

“The two sides should cooperate in implementing the G-20 Bali Energy Transition Roadmap, which was endorsed by Xi Jinping and Biden at the recent leaders’ summit,” Scheppe told the media in an email this week. “They should also support the implementation of the G20 Sustainable Finance Roadmap developed by the U.S.-China Working Group on Sustainable Finance.”

The G20 Bali Energy Transition Roadmap includes promoting stable, transparent, and affordable energy markets, as well as accelerating the energy transition by strengthening energy security and expanding zero- and low-emission power generation. The G-20 Sustainable Finance Roadmap focuses on ensuring that investments are used to achieve sustainability goals. The U.S. said in a statement that this would enhance the credibility of financial institutions’ net-zero commitments. These commitments are commitments to combat climate change.

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At the recently concluded COP27, hosted by Egypt, the United States and China also resumed climate negotiations. Following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China suspended bilateral cooperation in August in protest.

Dan Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, said at a press conference at COP27 on potential U.S.-China cooperation that high-level cooperation between the two countries is critical to combating climate change.

“If we ignore those high-level agreements and partnerships, even if they are trade or rights that need to be addressed through data, verification, and trust, then these watershed moments are the watershed moments that truly define climate success,” Carmen said. “Without this partnership between the two big countries here, it won’t accelerate our global decarbonization.”

Reinstatement of COP26 protocol

On a technical level, Schöppe said the climate declarations issued by the two countries at last year’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, could provide some guidance.

The two sides agreed last year to develop a regulatory framework and environmental standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade, as well as policies for decarbonization and the deployment of green technologies such as carbon capture. At COP27, Carmen provided a great example in terms of technical cooperation: his school partnered with the city of Shenzhen on a project involving electric taxis. The project calls on researchers to analyze data on the city’s roughly 20,000 electric taxis and predict trips and queue times at charging stations. With real-time information, he said, drivers can cut each taxi by more than 30 minutes per day, allowing cities to contract more green energy businesses.

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Use of fossil fuels

Deborah Seligsohn, an assistant professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, said domestic issues such as improving Shenzhen’s fleet of electric taxis could be the focus of the collaboration. She focuses on environmental governance and U.S.-China relations in China.

“In any case, a lot of the efforts on both sides will be done domestically… The basic work of mitigation is based on many domestic policies. Both countries know they need to be major countries in reducing emissions. Finding common ground to discuss is not a difficult issue,” Seligson told the media in a video call last week.

Experts recommend that the two work together to ensure a just transition in the fossil fuel sector.

“Both countries have communities where fossil fuel production is the main industry. The challenge is not just how to find work for specific people working in fossil fuel [industries], but also how to keep everything else alive from public schools to grocery stores,” she explains.

With more than 1,000 coal-fired power plants, China is currently the world’s largest coal producer, according to Statista. The United States is the world’s largest oil and gas producer, with more than 94,000 such facilities.

China’s coal production hit a record high in March, and months later, China was also seen ramping up coal supplies in response to its worst heatwave in decades. In October, China again increased its supply of coal for winter heating. Currently, half of the country’s energy is generated by burning coal used to generate electricity.

However, China’s carbon emissions are expected to decline due to slowing economic growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Experts predict that the slowdown will be short-lived.

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Uncertain future

Paul Harris, chair professor of global and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, said it remains to be seen whether the United States and China will have enough incentive to reduce fossil fuel use.

Harlisa told the media in an email earlier this week: “Most likely, they [the U.S. and China] will cooperate, as in the past, on things that tend to distract people from real issues.” ”

“Here, I think of carbon capture and sequestration, and the favorite pie-in-the-sky approach of polluters around the world, because it makes us all think we can continue to burn fossil fuels.” We can’t. ”

The climate expert said cooperation could be on a bumpy road as geopolitics could get in the way.

“There is mistrust on both sides and Beijing is not in the mood to compromise on the red line, especially Taiwan,” he added. “The pause in the US-China climate talks should not have happened. A real question is whether China is now serious about serious cooperation with the United States on climate change. I have very serious doubts. ”

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