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US urged to focus on climate cooperation with Beijing

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-07-12 07:10
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Chinese and US flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China, January 21, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

A climate expert said it's "essential "that the United States and China work cooperatively on climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues, a few days after more than 40 progressive organizations wrote a letter to US President Joe Biden and Congress urging them to set aside the "dominant antagonistic approach" toward China and prioritize cooperation to tackle the climate crisis.

"The Biden administration, and (Special Presidential Envoy for Climate) John Kerry in particular, have made it clear that they intend to do just that. I certainly hope that there are approaches that allow dialogue and that things don't devolve into some sort of a Cold War," said Ken Alex, director of Project Climate at the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Having said that, action on climate change and the multiple issues of dispute between the US and China cannot be completely segregated, but there is a great amount of cooperation on climate change that is possible, and in the interest of both nations and the world, aside and apart from the various disputes," he added.

In the letter dated July 7, a coalition of over 40 organizations said they were "deeply troubled by the growing Cold War mentality driving the United States' approach to China", which risks undermining much-needed cooperation on climate.

"We, the undersigned organizations, call on the Biden administration and all members of Congress to eschew the dominant antagonistic approach to US-China relations and instead prioritize multilateralism, diplomacy and cooperation with China to address the existential threat that is the climate crisis," the letter read.

Distrust and fear of interference in what might be viewed as internal issues or geographical imperatives both make cooperation more difficult, Alex said. In addition, issues of dispute and issues of cooperation could be hard to differentiate when the disputes are intense.

"In this atmosphere, initiatives like the California-China Climate Institute allow for dialogue between the US and China through sub-national governments like California and academic institutions like UC Berkeley that hopefully are not part of the rhetorical whirlpool," he said, in reference to a climate-focused think tank led by former California governor Jerry Brown.

"If leaders are so inclined, and we can certainly hope that they are, it may also provide an opening to find areas of cooperation on climate as a starting point for greater dialogue and understanding," Alex said.

According to Alex, some examples of actions that can be taken include: a bilateral agreement between the two countries that will enable them to take greater action more quickly on methane emissions; the coordination of standards on battery technology and charging; promotion of rainforest preservation by creating safe certifications for certain forest products; and enhancing sub-national collaboration on climate issues.

The bipartisan anti-China rhetoric damages the diplomatic relationships between the two countries. It bolsters racist, right-wing movements in the US, fuels violence against Asians, increases US military spending and does nothing to support the well-being of everyday people in either country, said the letter written by the 40-plus organizations, which included the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sunrise Movement.

The US, which is responsible for one-fourth of all emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution, is the biggest carbon polluter in history, and should do much more than China "if the world is to equitably stay on course to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius", the letter said.

The cooperation needed to solve the climate crisis depends on the US committing to its fair share of climate action, including cutting back on domestic emissions and bolstering international climate finance for developing countries, the organizations said.

"Regrettably, US politicians have long scapegoated China as an excuse to avoid global climate commitments. From the US refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol to efforts to water down the Paris Agreement, the US demonization of China has always been a major barrier to progress in global climate talks," they said.

'Complementary strengths'

The group went on to suggest that both countries have "complementary strengths", which they could use to make the transition to a clean global economy together. For example, the US is a world leader in clean technology research and China has an edge in its industrial capacity across a number of clean energy sectors.

"China and the United States should not only work together to support international best practice environmental, human rights, social, and governance standards, but also to ensure that producer countries and communities have access to affordable and clean energy-and the resources needed to mitigate the impacts of climate change," they said.

"Nothing less than the future of our planet depends on ending the new Cold War between the United States and China," the letter said.

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