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Only real option

By LIU YUANLING | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-29 08:49
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Climate diplomacy between China and the US is alive and well and will continue no matter who wins in November

The cooperation on climate change between China and the United States cannot be separated from the overall environment of China-US relations. The ups and downs of China-US relations over the past decade, especially the ongoing conflicts in the economic and trade fields, have had a strong negative impact on the development of China-US climate diplomacy, causing many people to worry that China-US climate cooperation is on the verge of collapse.

On May 14, US President Joe Biden announced steep tariff increases that will affect goods worth $18 billion imported from China, with tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles increasing from the current 25 percent to 100 percent.

China's exploration and practice in the field of new energy electric vehicles undoubtedly contributes to the low-carbon transformation of the global transportation sector. According to the Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2023 released by the International Energy Agency, it is estimated that under the established policy scenario, the global demand for new energy vehicles will exceed 40 million units by 2030, while in the publicly announced commitment scenario, the global demand for new energy vehicles will reach over 45 million units by 2030. In 2023, China's production of new energy vehicles was approximately 9.58 million units, with domestic sales of 8.29 million units and overseas exports of 1.20 million units. In 2023, among the top four global pure electric vehicle makers, Tesla ranked first with a market share of 19.9 percent, while BYD ranked second with a share of 17.1 percent. The success of the low-carbon transformation in the global transportation sector depends on the efforts and cooperation of all parties, and cooperation between China and the US on this issue is indispensable.

Currently, Chinese electric vehicles account for less than 2 percent of the US market. Nevertheless, the American Manufacturing Alliance claimed in an article that China's electric vehicles "may eventually become an extinction event for the American automotive industry". The fear of the US automotive industry, coupled with the encouragement of relevant interest groups, has cast a darker shadow over the future of China-US economic relations and trade. The obstruction and stagnation of bilateral cultural exchanges have also made grassroots exchanges lose vitality, and the possibility of Donald Trump reentering the White House has deepened concerns about the future of China-US climate diplomacy.

In this context, it is easy to say that China-US climate diplomacy has no future or that the future is bleak.

However, this is not the only perspective from which to view the two countries' climate diplomacy, and there are at least three reasons to take a more optimistic view.

First, the advancement of global climate governance is still the trend, and climate cooperation between China and the US is an imperative. The global climate crisis is real and it will not simply disappear due to poor coordination among countries and poor international climate governance. The existence of this issue itself will call for a concerted response, as countries around the world, including China and the US, and the international community have a fundamental need to address what is an existential challenge. The World Climate Conference will still be held, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is still in effect, and the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change is still working. The US has also suffered economic losses and humanitarian disasters caused by the climate crisis, and both parties need to address the economic and social challenges caused by climate change. As the two largest carbon emitting countries in the world, both China and the US have realized that neither of them can face this challenge alone without the other and the rest of the international community. Therefore, cooperation is inescapable.

Second, the current communication channels at all levels of China-US climate cooperation are still smooth, which is a necessary condition for the continued development of China-US climate cooperation. First, it is the attention and support from the highest political leaders of both sides, and is an important foundation for future cooperation between China and the US. On Nov 15, 2023, on the eve of the meeting between the leaders of China and the US in San Francisco, the two countries issued the "Sunshine Hometown Declaration on Strengthening Cooperation to Cope with the Climate Crisis", reaffirming their commitment to bilateral cooperation and working together with other countries to address the climate crisis. They pledged to accelerate a series of specific climate actions and launch practical cooperation plans and projects under the "2020s Enhanced Climate Action Working Group" before and after COP28.Second, in order to implement the San Francisco consensus of the heads of state of China and the US and the various actions of the Sunshine Hometown Declaration, and to continue the momentum of cooperation between the two sides, the new climate envoys of China and the US met for the first time in Washington in May.

Third, climate cooperation between China and the US is attracting more participating entities, which will add more stability to the future of China-US climate cooperation. It is gratifying that on May 29 and 30, the high-level event on local climate action between China and the US will be held in Berkeley, California. This not only continues the positive development of climate diplomacy between China and the US, but also solidifies bilateral climate cooperation, which will drive more bilateral exchanges and cooperation.

Many people are worried that should Trump become president again, it would mean the death of China-US climate cooperation. The actual situation is not like this. Looking back at the specific actions and achievements of the US, especially California, in addressing climate issues during Trump's term, shows that such pessimism is understandable but not necessary. The momentum of China and the US in addressing the climate crisis will continue.

The author is an assistant researcher at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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