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China, US can clear the air through climate change cooperation

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco and Hou Liqiang in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-17 09:49

Xie Zhenhua (right), China's special envoy for climate change, and United States special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry shake hands on July 17 ahead of their talks in Beijing. JENNIFER A. DLOUHY/GETTY IMAGES

Cooperation on climate change has historically been one of the most constructive aspects of US-China relations, and there are many ways for both sides to re-envision cooperation amid tensions over other issues, experts said.

"We really can't address this issue (climate change) without both the United States and China acting. We're the largest emitters in the world, and the rest of the world looks closely at the US-China bilateral relationship when it comes to climate change," said Joanna Lewis, a climate expert at Georgetown University.

In the months leading up to the Paris Agreement, it was the US-China bilateral relationship and both countries' pledges to act that mobilized global action, said Lewis, an associate professor of energy and environment and director of the university's Science, Technology and International Affairs Program.

The latest example was the meeting between China's special envoy for climate change Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry in California this month, ahead of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai. The aim of the dialogue was to foster cooperation and promote a successful COP28.

Lewis said reports indicated the meeting was constructive and set the stage for some re-engagement on climate. "Hours after that meeting, China released a long-awaited national methane plan, which is the first time China's released any policy strategy related to a very potent greenhouse gas that is key to the solution," Lewis said at a panel discussion examining US-China relations.

The plan said China would focus on improving its monitoring and supervision systems for methane through 2030.

Methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Reducing methane emissions is key to slowing short-term climate change and managing air pollution hazards, according to the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

Together with China's Ministry of Science and Technology, the US-based advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund launched the China-US Track 2 methane science and technology collaboration platform this year. The platform helps facilitate collaboration and exchanges among top methane science and research experts in both countries, according to Zhang Xiaonan, the group's methane manager.

"Two symposiums have been convened so far, which provided precious opportunities for direct communications between Chinese and US methane experts," said Zhang.

Methane has been "a big focus of the current administration and its engagement with China", said Lewis, and climate cooperation could be one of the ways to "re-envision the relationship under the current political climate".

Other experts expressed similar optimism, including Jake Werner, acting director of the East Asia program at the Quincy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Using California Governor Gavin Newsom's recent climate-themed trip to China as an example, Werner said, "It shows a different and hopeful way to conduct diplomacy." During his visit, the governor renewed four existing California climate cooperation agreements with Chinese provinces and municipalities and signed a new one.

"Establishing an architecture that embodies a mutually recognized common good is essential to US interests because it would facilitate both healthy competition and healthy cooperation with China," said Werner in a report on US-China relations.

The US and China have been cooperating with each other for decades on clean energy and climate change, which has been "one of the most constructive aspects of the relationship", said Lewis. The cornerstone of US-China climate cooperation is based on clean energy technology, accelerating innovation and deployment, she said.

"Over the past few decades, China has risen to become the leading manufacturer and deployer of most of the key clean energy technologies that the world needs for the low carbon transition — wind, solar, and now batteries for electric vehicles," she said, and this has created a competitive environment.

"No cooperation, particularly on the science and technology front, is ultimately detrimental to the US and to the global innovation system."

Fan Dai, director of the California-China Climate Institute, told China Daily it is important for the two countries to work together on global challenges, particularly climate change, as neither country can solve the issue on its own.

"Beyond the G20, there are areas in climate finance the two countries can cooperate on, such as providing funding resources for developing countries, African countries and poor communities to allow access to renewable energy and accelerate the clean energy transition in these areas and regions," Fan said.

Another area for cooperation could be enhancing carbon emission disclosure requirements and aligning on climate-resilient investment guidelines to help mobilize financial resources for climate initiatives, Fan added.

Zhang Jianyu, executive director of the BRI Green Development Institute, said China and the US should maximize the convergence of interests by enhancing collaboration in developing countries. These nations, which have less capability to deal with climate change, represent the major contradiction in global efforts to cope with the issue.

One viable option to jointly address the problem is to establish cooperation between China's Green Investment and Finance Partnership and the Just Energy Transition Partnership in the West, he said, adding the two mechanisms should complement each other.

While the JETP provides financing to developing states mainly to shut down fossil fuel plants, the GIFP focuses on enabling developing countries to foster investment and build new clean power sources for sustainable energy growth.

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