Are U.S. and China finally getting serious about climate change?
September 18th, 2013
10:27 AM ET

Are U.S. and China finally getting serious about climate change?

By Junjie Zhang, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Junjie Zhang is a senior advisor at Asia Society and assistant professor of Environmental Economics in the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The announcement at this month’s G20 summit that the U.S. and China plan to form a contact group to tackle the rapidly rising use of a key ozone-depleting chemical came on the heels of a June summit in which Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping agreed to work together to reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

That agreement was itself followed by a report submitted by the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group in July to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue proposing five new action initiatives involving transportation; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; energy efficiency; and data transparency.

Taken together, these developments have raised hopes that the so-called Group of Two is finally getting serious about climate change and low carbon development. But are they really?

Yes and no.

Certainly, both China and the United States are facing mounting international pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The two countries accounted for 43 percent of global emissions in 2011. China has become the world's top emitter, while the United States remains the largest cumulative emitter since the industrial revolution.

More from GPS: Obama ahead of public on climate

But future emission scenarios present an even bleaker picture. While China once had a low per capita emission level, it is now quickly catching up to average levels in some European countries. And although U.S. per capita emissions have been declining, they remain among the highest among developed countries.

International climate negotiations have so far failed to rein in U.S. and Chinese greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, neither country was subject to the quantified emission limitation or reduction commitments. China was ruled to be exempt on the basis of the "common but differentiated responsibility" principle – a firewall for developing countries granted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The United States signed the Kyoto Protocol, but never submitted it to Congress for ratification, mainly due to concerns over its industrial competitiveness and the absence of major emitters like China. As Beijing and Washington continue to point fingers at each other while citing historical or future responsibilities, they bear the brunt of responsibility for the gridlock within which international climate negotiations are mired.

It is also clear that disagreement over the best way forward remains a key challenge. The United States prefers to deal with a limited number of large emitters such as those in the Major Economies Forum. China for its part insists that negotiations be conducted through the United Nations, worried that the United States would gain greater negotiating power in a smaller forum that excludes the vast majority of developing countries usually allied with China in U.N. climate negotiations.

But it is not just in the international arena that the two nations face obstacles to progress – there are considerable domestic challenges, too. For example, both Washington and Beijing are reluctant to restrict emissions through caps or carbon taxes. In the United States, failed federal climate legislation is not simply a matter of partisan politics – three presidents, two Democrats and one Republican, foiled U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol. The Byrd-Hagel resolution, which prevents the United States from joining an international climate treaty without the participation of all major emitters, was passed unanimously in the Senate in 1997.

More from GPS: Could fracking in China be game changer?

True, climate change has been included in China's 12th Five-Year Plan, which sets explicit emission intensity targets, measured by emissions per unit of GDP for each province. But addressing climate change in a global context remains a low priority there since it is seen as conflicting with domestic economic growth. China's climate mitigation efforts in the short run will therefore likely be far from sufficient to convince the United States to sign on to a climate treaty.

And the reality is that if the United States does not offer Beijing any financial and technological assistance, China is unlikely to phase down HFCs at its own cost. Although the Economic Dialogue report identified a set of climate actions common to both countries, it said little about implementation. As a more detailed plan is drafted, a re-instatement of already existing policies would therefore not be surprising.

All this suggests that while an international treaty that sets legally binding emission targets on all countries really needs to be the ultimate political goal, it is clear that Washington and Beijing are not even close to getting there. The best we can hope for, for now at least, is the continuation of the step by step approach to developing bilateral climate agreements.

These initial steps almost certainly won’t result in significant emission reductions in the near-term. But they could ultimately go a long way toward helping to build the trust and establish the common ground necessary for creating a comprehensive climate treaty that actually works.

Post by:
Topics: China • Climate • Environment • United States

« Previous entry
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Marry

    We should not overvalue China. The USA will benefit with no strong ties to China, as American Companies are not performing well there. USA should focus on key market: EU, NATO, Russia, Australia, ... but not China. Chinese are quite reluctant to buy American, that's why we should also not import from China, if not necessary.

    September 18, 2013 at 10:46 am | Reply
    • Peter

      China actually quite willing to buy American, but America has a long list of banned products. China every year ask USA to loosen banned product lists so they can buy.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      We should not overvalue any relationship.

      But the relationship in the world we should value the most is that with China.

      If we sell less than what we should to China we have ourselves to blame.

      The Germans do not seem to have the problem we do in selling goods to China.

      China represents the greatest opportunity to American companies in this century. With several hundred million Chinese entering the middle class in the next decade.

      September 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  2. TXPatriot

    Get out your winter coats, it's going to be a cold one.

    September 18, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
  3. dsfgfASDFASDFg3452345@gmail.com

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE RETROACTIVE LAW– SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 x 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS PER EACH VICTIM TELOMER.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.

    COMPLAINT FOR: WOMAN VIOLATION, DRUG DEALING, THEFT OF POLITICIANS,
    INVASIVE TECHNOLOGIES USED FOR HUMAN MANIPULATION CRIMES.

    1.CRISTINA KIRSHNER
    2.DILMA RUSEF
    3.NICOLAS MADURO
    4.MANUEL SANTOS
    5.BARAK OBAMA
    6.STEPHEN HARPER
    7.THE KING OF SPAIN
    8.ANGELA MERKEL
    9.THE POPE FRANSICO
    10.PRINCE WILLIAM
    11.XI JINPING CHINA
    12.SHINZO ABE
    13.VLADIMIR PUTIN
    14.VAN KI MOON
    15.FRANCOIS HOLLANDE
    16.DAVID CAMERON
    17.GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
    18.KIN JONG

    REWARD 100,000,000 MILLION DOLLARS TO WHOM THIS CRIMINAL TRAP.

    POLITICAL GENOCIDE – SATELITAL TORTURES IRRADIATION.

    DAMAND PER 1.000.000 OF DOLAR TO THIS SERIAL KILLER SUBJECTS.
    September 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Reply

    September 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  4. Andrew

    The key factors for American success: no collaboration with China, no collaboration with South Korea, stopping North Korea secret military programs. If American companies want become winners, Washington DC need stop importing from China, S.Korea, N.Korea.

    September 19, 2013 at 7:40 am | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Both China and the US opt for growth at the cost of the environment rather than focusing on growth in consistence with environmental sustainability. Beijing and Washington see it as their obligation to the international community to tread the economic path, fearing any change of course could derail the global fragile growth.

    September 19, 2013 at 9:20 am | Reply
  6. cartoonmick

    I love hearing debate from both sides, as each contain persuasive elements.

    Historically, science and politics have had many disagreements.

    Toss in some religious and business pressure, and anything can evolve (or not).

    “Only listen to advice which assists the cause”.

    Anyhow, it always gives me plenty of material for my cartoons.

    This is my latest . . . .

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-775

    Cheers

    Mick

    September 22, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  7. Adellah

    Hello, I'm a major student and I'm preparing a paper on this topic.

    Could you please tell me when and where this event took place?

    Not the day it was posted, I mean when it actually took place.

    Thank you.

    December 4, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry