Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
Mutual Cooperation or a Red Herring? U.S.-China Climate Change Dialogue
As the United States and the People’s Republic of China enter a new era of international relations, areas of both cooperation and competition in the bilateral relationship will take on global significance. In no area is this more evident than climate change, where U.S.-PRC cooperation will be critical for setting global standards for reducing carbon emissions. The importance of climate change to U.S.-PRC cooperation was emphasized in our dialogue meetings. However, it is also clear that climate change must not be allowed to distract the United States, its partners and allies from other critical areas. By this I mean that the U.S. should not take cooperation with the PRC on climate change to exclude or excuse poor behavior in other areas.
Climate change has become an issue of critical significance to both the U.S. and PRC. As of May 10, 2021, this was nowhere clearer than in the actions of U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. On April 30, 2021 Kerry flew to Shanghai to initiate high-level bilateral dialogue between the U.S. and China as the U.S. seeks to build a new global coalition to combat climate change. Kerry, a former candidate for president from the Democratic party, has strong influence with Biden and an in-person trip to China is a signal of how serious the Biden administration is about addressing climate change in a rapid and meaningful way.
The PRC is also serious about addressing climate change. In September 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that his country would aim to be carbon neutral by 2060 after hitting peak carbon emissions in 2030. This is a massive and important commitment to the global struggle against climate change. As of 2020, China was the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide with 28% of global carbon emissions. While still less than the U.S. on a per-capita basis, U.S.-PRC cooperation on climate change will clearly be crucial to reducing carbon emissions.
Coming out of the dialogue, it is clear that this sentiment is shared by students in both the United States and China. One of our discussions focused on the issue as our primary topic, and we often circled back to climate change when discussing global development and the future of U.S.-PRC bilateral cooperation. Students from both the United States and China recognize that addressing climate change will be critical to the future of the planet. Moreover, students on both sides recognized that goals for addressing climate change could not be unequal. Countries that have only just begun developing, they agreed, should be given special dispensation to emit carbon at a higher rate than developed or nearly developed countries.
That said, the PRC has, in the past, used issues like climate change to focus the attention of the United States away from other areas of critical importance to the United States and its allies and partners. A strong bilateral relationship between the United States and the PRC will certainly be a critical feature of the international system in the coming decades. It is important not to forget this. However, moving forward, U.S. strategic planners and diplomats should make sure to not allow progress on climate change to obscure violation of other international norms. The United States must continue to cooperate with China on climate change while at the same time promoting and protecting international norms of sovereignty and human rights.
Gabriel Angelini (C'21) is a senior in the College at Georgetown majoring in Government with a minor in Chinese.
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