November 9, 2022
BEIJING – Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 1979, Sino-US climate diplomacy has experienced many ups and downs. It reached a flashpoint during the Barack Obama administration, and then hit a low during the Donald Trump administration, which abandoned many of Obama’s policies apart from pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement. Initially, the Joe Biden administration revived hopes of resuming Sino-US climate cooperation, but those hopes have not materialized.
So it’s time the US and China resumed their climate talks.
Many countries across the world experienced frequent extreme weather and natural disasters in the summer, indicating that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tackle climate change. The Sixth Assessment Report the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in April says the interaction between climate change, ecosystems and human society is mainly negative and harmful. This means human beings face greater climate risks.
First, climate change poses a bigger risk to human survival, and global warming is increasingly influencing weather patterns, causing frequent heat waves, heavy downpours and droughts in many parts of the world, which are worsening global food insecurity. In fact, by June 2022, the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity in 82 countries increased to 345 million from 135 million in 2019.
These developments are bound to have a negative impact on both China and the US.
The Biden administration has pledged to elevate the fight against climate change as a “national policy” and restore the US’ leadership in global climate governance. As for China, it should make efforts to meet its climate action targets of peaking carbon emissions before 2030 and realizing carbon neutrality before 2060.
Although the climate crisis cannot be resolved through just Sino-US cooperation, if China and the US do not cooperate to overcome the climate challenge, global climate governance will not be successful.
Second, the climate crisis threatens to cause the collapse of civilizations — which means the loss of a society’s ability to maintain basic governance functions, especially the ability to safeguard security, promote the rule of law, and provide the basic necessities such as food and water for its people.
An article published in Nature argues that if all the current climate pledges are fulfilled, it would be possible to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. But the problem is that not all the goals can be met. The United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2022, “A Closing Window – The Climate Crisis Urgently Requires Rapid Social Transformation” released on Oct 27, 2022, says the international community is far from meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, and there is no reliable path to limit warming to 1.5 C.
Despite the decision of all countries to boost their National Determined Commitments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, and some updated targets, progress has been woefully inadequate, with the NDCs submitted in 2022 reducing only 0.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, less than 1 percent of the projected global emissions in 2030.
Therefore, to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all levels in the next eight years.
What happens without US-China climate cooperation? Can the Paris Agreement goals be achieved? That seems impossible. That the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be effectively contained worldwide, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is going on and the climate crisis is intensifying suggests it’s time to resume the US-China climate dialogue.
The US President’s Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry told the Financial Times on Aug 30 that he “wants to resume bilateral climate talks with China”, and reiterated it in an interview with The Guardian on Oct 25.
Kerry is not the only one who holds this view. Many people in China and other countries, and that includes the US, too, want China and the US to resume cooperation on climate.
The inaugural Global Youth Climate Week at Tsinghua University on Oct 31, 2022, gave us an inspiring slogan of some students: “Together we will change the world.” At the opening ceremony, the voices of young people from across the world were heard. And there is no doubt that these young people, who represent the future, also hope Sino-US climate cooperation and dialogue will be resumed.
But how can the dialogue be resumed?
China and the US signed the Letter of Intent for Cooperation in Urban Air Quality Monitoring Projects between the two sides in 1998, laying the foundation for subsequent climate cooperation. But it is very important to keep in mind that the US pledged to uphold the one-China principle in the three joint communiques, and the communiques are the political foundation for the healthy development of Sino-US ties.
But US is bent on undermining that foundation. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Aug 2, followed by some other top US officials’ visits to the Chinese island and the passage of the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee are attempts to challenge the one-China principle. Worse, Biden has been making provocative statements on the Taiwan question, and has even vowed to defend Taiwan in case the Chinese mainland is provoked to use force to reunify Taiwan with the motherland.
Kerry was right when he said it is time the two sides restarted the climate dialogue, but that is possible only when the US changes its belligerent stance against China and stops interfering in the Taiwan question.
But Kerry was wrong to say that China’s proposal to suspend the climate dialogue was punishing the entire humankind. China has never believed in punishing people in any other country, let alone people across the world. Instead, China has made efforts to help build a better world, especially on the climate issue.
Suspending the bilateral climate dialogue was a decision China was forced to make due to the US’ anti-China moves. What Kerry and the US administration need to realize is that China will never turn a blind eye to the US’ interference in the Taiwan.
Despite the pain and anger caused by the US’ interference in China’s internal affairs, we hope Kerry and other Americans will see reason and change their stance in order to resume cooperation with China on climate and other issues. China has always pursued peaceful national reunification, but it will not rule out using force to reunify the island with the motherland if separatists on the island.
At the time of the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt, it is hoped the two sides should resume the bilateral climate dialogue and the US will stop interfering in the Taiwan question to help make that possible.
The author is a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.