The climate crisis is gathering global momentum, but it will be impossible to act without two countries, China and the United States, which together account for more than half of the world’s emissions and whose governments are not getting along.
On the eve of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, thes experts believe that cooperation between the United States and China could be the catalyst for a historic agreement on climate change.
But they also believe that their icy relationship is not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle, since the competition between the two could boost the fight against global warming.
Both nations have stepped up their efforts to curb emissions, although analysts say these actions have been too modest to deliver. with the objective of the UN to maintain the increase in the temperature of the planet in 1.5 ° C, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
“If the governments of China and the United States are not able to agree on anything substantial, I think there may still be room for serious action, because both countries are capable and willing to do a lot on their own,” he said. Mary Nichols, who led major climate initiatives as chair of the California Air Resources Board.
“But that doesn’t mean this is irrelevant,” he said. “Without an explicit agreement, other countries would be reluctant to act.”
The administration of the president of the United States, Joe Biden, has described Beijing as the main long-term challenge of its country and pressures it on issues ranging from human rights to trade, but seeks a compromise on the climate.
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“It is not a mystery that China and the United States have many differences. But, in terms of climate, cooperation is the only way to free ourselves from the current collective suicide pact that we have in the world,” said John Kerry, the United States envoy. United for Climate, in a recent speech.
Kerry has traveled to China twice despite the cooling of relations. But on his last visit, Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a warning.
“It is impossible for the climate cooperation between China and the United States to rise above the general environment of relations between the two countries,” said Wang.
These remarks raised concerns in Washington that the Biden-Kerry approach could backfire and allow China to use climate as a lever.
But Chinese President Xi Jinping shortly after took an important step by saying at the United Nations that Beijing would stop funding coal in its overseas infrastructure-building bombing, although it continues to invest at home in this form of dirty energy. politically sensitive.
Alex Wang, co-director of faculty at the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles, said China and the United States could engage in a “race to the top” to see who does more for the planet.
“It enhances China’s global reputation to appear as a positive player on climate,” said Wang.
“If China’s leaders feel that they are lagging behind, I think that would put some pressure on act more and they would have a reason to ignore the voices of the fossil fuel or coal industries in their country “, said.
“But without the pressure, then the balance tips in favor of slower action.”
Wang underscored the contrast with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, whose climate skepticism put little pressure on Beijing to tackle the coal issue.