Four months after former US President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, marking the emergence of environmental issues on the cooperation agenda. Chinese-American. China and the United States sent delegations to the conference and worked together for the Declaration on the Human Environment, or Stockholm Declaration for “One Earth”. Global governance of climate change has now entered the post-Glasgow era following the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and China and the United States can work together to lead the transition to a carbon neutral world.
China and the United States are key players in global climate governance and drivers of the global energy transition. To peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, China has formulated a high-level design and is accelerating institutional planning to promote green and low-carbon development and energy transition, which will strictly control the coal-fired electricity projects while promoting the development of quality wind and photovoltaic production. In recent years, China has emerged as a global leader in providing clean technology and has been striving to build a new global supply chain dominated by renewable energy. In the United States, the Joe Biden administration has proposed a Green New Deal to address the climate crisis, promote economic growth, and eliminate national economic inequality. It pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030 compared to 2005, and to achieve carbon-free pollution and net-zero emissions in the electric power industry by 2035 and a net zero economy by 2050 at the latest in the medium term. Climate change is placed at the center of national economic transformation and foreign policy planning, and great importance has been placed on the R&D and application of net-zero carbon technologies to preserve American leadership in the direction and the concept of key technological advances in decarbonization.
As for China-US cooperation, there are still many chronic problems, including geopolitical competition between them and a lack of mutual political trust. The bipartisan consensus in the United States on strategic competition prevents the Biden administration from working better with China on climate and energy governance. Some U.S. politicians increasingly view China and other emerging powers as strategic competitors, and climate governance as a matter of U.S. economic dominance, energy security, and technological leadership. This competitive beggar-thy-neighbour approach will not only undermine mutual trust between developed and developing countries, but will also distort the global distribution of clean energy and green industry chains, and hinder international cooperation in research and the development of clean technologies. This, in turn, will increase the economic cost of the green transition, widen the gap between large and developing countries, and present unprecedented challenges for global climate governance and achieving the low-carbon transition.
In the future, in order to deal with the emerging “coopetition” between China and the United States in the field of climate change, pragmatic tools should be used to lead the China-US comprehensive climate collaboration.
First, the leaders of both parties have already successfully cooperated on climate, taking constructive leadership for the adoption, signing and implementation of the Paris Agreement. China and the United States should strengthen their head of state diplomacy to facilitate coordination in multilateral fora. Facilitating China-US cooperation mechanisms in intellectual property and low-carbon technology would foster a good institutional environment to promote bilateral trust.
Second, China and the United States can coexist, co-prosper and collaborate competitively in the field of high technology. Since technological cooperation is the guaranteed way to tackle the climate crisis, a shared understanding among scientists must be the keystone of bilateral exchanges in science and technology. Current emission reduction and carbon neutral technologies are still at an early stage of development, with high costs and considerable difficulties in achieving the transformational restructuring of the energy industry. Negative emissions, i.e. low-carbon, zero-carbon and carbon-negative technologies, are key to a country’s climate governance, but disparities in high-tech capabilities still exist between China and the United States, even with shared understandings on the issue of climate change, and common aspirations to exchange experiences in the manufacture of equipment and academic findings. China and the United States can jointly establish a high-level dialogue mechanism on climate change and energy transformation, opening new rounds of meetings of the China-US Joint Committee on Environmental Cooperation and the Working Group on Environmental Cooperation. China-US 10-Year Framework for Energy and Environmental Cooperation, and facilitate college-level research cooperation, create more room for growth in low-carbon governance, and cultivate innovative emission reduction technologies.
Third, China and the United States have both stressed the need to strengthen the construction of their carbon markets, to cooperate on carbon futures and other global climate finance architectures. The Chinese carbon market, headquartered in Shanghai, is expected to deepen collaboration and exchanges with the carbon markets of Chicago and the northeast of the United States, facilitating the listing of respective carbon projects and contracts at carbon futures in each other’s markets, promoting the carbon market as a new financial nexus between China and the United States. Sino-US cooperation in carbon pricing and regional carbon taxation policies, coupled with collaboration with the US Environmental Defense Fund, has led to specific research on voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. and management of carbon trading. Inspired by the research findings, the National Unified Carbon Market Price, Price Index Mechanism and Green Energy Certificate Subsidy Policy in China, among other market strategies, will be used to slowly replace government subsidies through free market pricing. In this endeavor, China should deepen its market opening to assuage US concerns over government assistance to low-carbon industry.
The author is a professor and director of the Institute of Comparative Politics and Public Policy at the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies.