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February 9, 2018

Responding To: The Future of U.S.-China Climate Change Efforts

Global Climate Leadership Depends on How You Define it

Melanie Hart

Part of the answer to this question depends on how you define global leadership. There are a couple of different areas to consider. The two big ones are shaping the global climate agreement and gaining market share in global clean energy industries.

When it comes to shaping the global climate negotiations we do have the Paris Climate Agreement, but we are still working on agreement implementation. One of the key issues we should care about is transparency. China has a different vision for transparency than the United States does, and right now it is very difficult for the United States to push forward our vision of transparency, which is that China and other developing countries should follow the same standards that we do in terms of putting forward high-quality data so we can verify what everyone is doing. U.S. leadership is definitely slipping in the international negotiation space because of the president’s announcement to disengage from the Paris Climate Agreement. The other side of the coin is who supplies the clean energy products that almost 200 nations around the world are going to be buying over the next decade to meet their Paris agreements? It is going to be a multi-trillion-dollar market, one that China is keen to dominate, and if the United States moves in a direction that pushes us away from being the clean energy innovator of the future then there is an increasing risk that China will be supplying those technologies rather than the United States. Those are the two areas that I define as global climate leadership; on both of those areas we are rapidly losing ground. That can be reversed. We have sub-national leaders that are working very hard to send a message to the international community that the United States as a whole is still in the climate agreement, that we still understand our local interests are aligned with the global interests on progressive climate policy. And hopefully, we will be able to come back around to that path after 2020, but we will have ground to make up at that time.

Melanie Hart is director of China policy and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. She is a participant of the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues faculty research group on climate change.

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