U.S. President Joe Biden, right, stands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, November 14, 2022. (Photo: AP)
BERLIN: Amid a recent spate of meetings that have brought together officials from the United States and China, along with other world leaders, experts say the two countries can work together on climate change despite lingering tensions.
The two largest economies are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, but also rivals as China seeks to expand its influence around the world. Tensions have also risen amid policies towards Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province.
Despite geopolitical tensions, working together to implement agreements at the recent G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia may be the first step, according to Belinda Schaepe, a climate diplomacy researcher in London at E3G, a research group that focuses on China cooperation. , the European Union and the USA
“The two sides should cooperate to implement the G-20 Bali Roadmap for Energy Transitions, which was endorsed by both Xi and Biden at the recent leaders’ summit,” Schaepe told VOA in a email this week. “It should also support the implementation of the G20 Sustainable Finance Roadmap developed by the Working Group on Sustainable Finance, which China and the US co-chaired.”
She was referring to US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. They met in person for the first time since Biden took office and held more than three hours of talks during the G-20 summit, which brought together leaders from the 20 largest economies.
The G-20 Bali Energy Transitions Roadmap includes fostering stable, transparent and affordable energy markets, as well as accelerating energy transitions by strengthening energy security and expanding low- and zero-emission energy production. The G-20 Sustainable Financing Roadmap focuses on ensuring that investments are directed towards achieving sustainable goals. The US said in a statement that this will improve the credibility of net zero commitments by financial institutions. These commitments are commitments to combat climate change.
The US and China also resumed talks on climate issues at the 27th United Nations Climate Conference, known as COP27, hosted by Egypt. China suspended bilateral cooperation in August in protest after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.
High-level cooperation between these two countries is critical to combating climate change, Dan Kammen, an energy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told a press conference at COP27 on potential US-China cooperation.
“If we lose sight of those high-level agreements and partnerships, even if they’re trade or rights that need to be resolved through data and verification and trust, it’s these watershed moments that really define climate success,” Kammen said. “Unless this partnership expands between the two great powers here, it will not accelerate our global decarbonisation.”
Revival of the COP26 agreement
On a technical level, Schaepe said a climate declaration by the two countries, initiated in Glasgow, Scotland, at last year’s COP26 conference, can provide some guidelines.
Both sides agreed last year to establish regulatory frameworks and environmental standards to reduce greenhouse gases this decade, as well as policies on decarbonisation and the implementation of green technologies such as carbon capture.
At COP27, Kammen gave a concrete example of technological cooperation: his school cooperated with the city of Shenzhen on a project involving electric taxis. It asked researchers to analyze data from about 20,000 electric taxis in the city and predict travel and waiting times at charging stations. With the real-time information, he said, drivers could cut the time for each taxi by more than 30 minutes each day and allow the city to contract more green energy businesses.
Use of fossil fuels
Domestic issues, such as improving Shenzhen’s fleet of electric taxis, are likely a focus for cooperation, according to Deborah Seligsohn, an assistant professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. She focuses on environmental governance in China and US-China relations.
“A lot of the hard work on both sides is going to be domestic, no matter what … the core mitigation work is based on a lot of domestic politics. Both countries know that they must be the leading countries in reducing emissions. It’s not a difficult issue to find common ground to talk about,” Seligsohn told VOA News in a video call last week.
The expert suggested that the two cooperate to ensure a just transition in the fossil fuel industry.
“Both countries have communities where fossil fuel production is the major industry. The challenge is not just how to find jobs for the specific people who work in fossil fuels [industry]but how do you maintain the vitality of everything from public schools to grocery stores,” she explained.
China is currently home to more than 1,000 coal-fired power plants, according to Statista, the world’s largest producer of coal, while the US is the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, with more than 94,000 such installations.
China’s coal output hit a record high in March, and a few months later it was also seen increasing its coal supply to cope with the worst heatwaves in decades. In October, China again increased its coal supply for winter heating. Currently, half of the country’s energy is generated by burning coal, which is used to produce electricity.
However, China’s carbon emissions were projected to decline due to slowing economic growth due to shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts expect the slowdown to be short-lived.
Whether the U.S. and China are motivated enough to reduce their use of fossil fuels remains to be seen, according to Paul Harris, a professor of global and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong.
“What is most likely is that they [the U.S. and China] will cooperate, as it has in the past, on things that tend to distract from the real issue,” Harris told VOA earlier this week in an email.
“Here I’m thinking about carbon capture and sequestration and the favored approach of polluters around the world because it makes us all believe we can keep burning fossil fuels. We can not.”
The climate expert said cooperation is likely to be on a bumpy road as geopolitics is likely to stand in the way.
“There is mistrust on both sides and Beijing is not willing to compromise on its red lines, especially Taiwan,” he added. “The shutdown of Sino-US climate talks should never have happened. A real question is whether China is now serious about serious cooperation with the United States on climate change. I have very serious doubts.”