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Cooperation, not Competition, the Way to Lead Global Climate Action

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2024-05-17 12:44:33 | Author: GONG Qian

The Jackson Glacier, which has shrunk 40 percent from 316 acres (128 hectares) down to 187 acres (76 hectares) as of 2015, viewed from the Jackson Glacier Overlook in Glacier National Park, Montana, the U.S., on October 20, 2023. (PHOTO: VCG)

By GONG Qian

China and the U.S. agreed on climate collaboration including accelerating renewables deployment and methane emissions controls during a two-day meeting in Washington on May 8-9. It was the first face-to-face meeting between China's Special Envoy for climate change Liu Zhenmin and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Podesta.

In March, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) once again raised the alarm, with its new report indicating that the average global temperature had still increased in 2023. The May meeting shows the urgent need of cooperation, which will benefit not only China and the U.S. but also the rest of the world.

China and the U.S. have a common but differentiated responsibility vis-a-vis climate change and both have to cooperate as far as possible to continue to lead the global process, Liu said in a public interview in April.

"We have to get the climate problem under control, and there are no more important countries than the U.S. and China to lead the way," Podesta was cited as saying by the Financial Times.

Despite their different climate agenda, China and the U.S. possess mutual interests that create an opportunity for dialogue and collaborative action.

China is expected to phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five-Year Plan (2026-2030) while the U.S. intends to achieve 100 percent clean power by 2035. China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment stated that the two countries intend to intensify technological and policy exchanges on realizing their respective goals.

Climate change has been a vital field of collaboration between China and the U.S. Dialogues and cooperation on environmental issues have been a channel for conversations, keeping communication going between the two countries for decades, Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank, told South China Morning Post.

Last November, the two countries agreed in the Sunnylands talks in California, the U.S., on cooperation across key climate topics, including addressing the potent greenhouse gas methane, the circular economy, energy efficiency and the transition away from fossil fuels.

The top priority for China-U.S. relations now is to implement the consensus reached at the San Francisco meeting between the two heads of state last November, Gong Ting, an associate research fellow from the China Institute of International Studies, told Science and Technology Daily.

There will be more climate talks between the two countries, including the U.S.-China High-Level Event on Subnational Climate Action, to be held in California on May 29-30, and a second Methane and Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases Summit at COP29 scheduled in Azerbaijan this November. All these meetings show both sides are willing to take steps towards addressing climate change issues, Gong said.

Turner added that any joint action on methane or "a competitive race to the top" could set a good tone for the COP29.

Although realizing the importance of collaboration on climate issues with China, the U.S. has continuously been prioritizing economic competition at the expense of mitigating the climate emergency by attempting to rebuild a domestic renewable energy chain from scratch while hyping China's "overcapacity" in new energy products. Such behavior can raise climate mitigation costs and slow down clean energy transition.

Attempting to compete with China in low-carbon manufacturing is a futile endeavor, Li Shuo, the head of the China climate hub at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, told the New York Times.

Li expressed skepticism about the U.S. ability to establish a comprehensive solar supply chain promptly enough to address the challenges posed by climate change. He also doubted whether solar products manufactured in the U.S. could ever achieve a competitive edge in terms of cost. According to Li, this is not a contest that the U.S. should engage in, nor is it one that it is likely to win.

"We need to maintain low costs, otherwise nobody is going to be able to afford the energy transition," Liu Zhenmin told Bloomberg in a recent interview.

He referenced an analysis by global data provider Wood Mackenzie to highlight that depending on technology outside China could increase the expenses of global energy transition by up to 6 trillion USD, or a 20 percent rise. Instead, other nations could capitalize on the thriving Chinese industry to produce clean energy equipment, batteries and electric vehicles, which can significantly reduce costs.

Therefore, instead of regarding China's green industries as geopolitical dynamics to complicate the climate issue, the U.S. should realize that the two largest economies in the world have an obligation to communicate, cooperate and collaborate where they can to tackle the climate crisis.

Editor: 龚茜

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