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Biden and Sino-US Climate Cooperation

Image Credit: The New York Times
Biden and Sino-US Climate Cooperation

The raptured partnership of the United States and China on climate change has seen a beacon of hope under Biden as the president of the world’s most popular democracy. In his speech before taking office, he said that he would join the Paris Agreement and make China agree to what it had committed in 2015. The US President thus signed the Paris Agreement soon after entering office. Biden has framed his climate plan to be China-centric where he has mentioned China 13 times. Despite the turmoil among the major powers, a strong partnership will bolster the global efforts to improve the climate charts.

However, Biden’s plan has regarded China as a rival in the battle for dominance in the green industries because, for him, Trump’s failure to compete with China allowed the latter to take the lead in the auto industries of the future. The waning role of the US amid COVID-19 and China’s emergence as a global saviour has raised eyebrows in Washington, that views Beijing as a threat to its global dominance. This has affected the trust of the US in the realm of global governance and to regain its role, especially in the climate domain, the state has rejoined the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nevertheless, Biden’s view that the US-China relationship is of competition rather than cooperation, creates scepticism over US’ President’s claim to regain global prominence in the climate field. Following the footings of Obama is not what it seems. Obama gained trust through cooperation rather than competition in the climate change efforts.

Furthermore, the 2019 Biden’s climate plan is focused more on the domestic imperatives. As far as his international cooperation is concerned, primarily Sino-US cooperation, a unitary task force has been released in which Biden and Sander provided their recommendations about the US role in the international climate efforts. The task force recommendations suggest that the US, apart from joining the Paris Climate Agreement, including the Green Climate Fund, should seek higher “ambitions” from nations around the world. Different domestic plans, for instance, the restoration of Bears Ears, national monuments, and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are part of the agenda, along with advanced manufacturing, clean energy generation and other steps to cut carbon pollution. These efforts will support the US commitment at home while improving the global image that was dangling under the previous administration.

However, his 2019 plan holds a clause that could sway the prospects for Sino-US cooperation. He has criticized the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) members and has called them to end their financing of coal-fired power plants of China’s BRI. This, as a result, may impede the road to Sino-US cooperation under the climate domain. Moreover, the US efforts are viewed as “critically insufficient” as per the Climate Action Tracker. On the other hand, the increasing support of China in mitigating carbon emissions as per the Paris Agreement deranges the prospect of such cooperation while asking for greater US measures to uplift its climate game because Xi Jinping won’t be leaving comfortable grounds for Biden to take the lead in climate governance.

China is committed to a renewable energy future that further contains Biden’s reboot to the US global role in the climate domain.

Besides, climate cooperation depends on the willingness of both states. Biden has made it clear that his approach includes his commitment to reaching near-zero-emission by 2050. Such steps are vital for the US to retain its global role. While China’s record narrates that it is the leading state in the deployment of solar and wind power at the same time when it is the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter. China is committed to a renewable energy future that further contains Biden’s reboot to the US global role in the climate domain.

Biden has already given a clear hint to the policymakers in China that he is searching for a middle ground in uplifting Sino-US cooperation in mitigating climate change. His plan of action is evident. First of all, Biden has focused on conveying his determination in mitigating climate change to the world – more specifically to China. Secondly, to show his readiness to cooperate, he has been adding foundations to his commitments through effective climate policies at home. For these, he has affixed climate as a threat in National Security Strategy (NSS). A summit could be planned in the following year, where if not the top priority, climate change would most probably count as a steppingstone to Joe Biden-Xi Jinping’s bromance – similar to the ones that existed between Obama and Xi Jinping. He may call for collective efforts even at the cost of opening its climate allies to cooperation in regaining the US prominence in global climate governance.

There is eagerness among the environmental institutions to let the US and China act jointly, leading to a better environment for which collaboration is the way forward. There is a need for environmental leadership from both states, like that of President Obama and President Xi Jinping, who came forward and identified climate change and energy policy as their top precedence.

Conclusively, both states are signatories to major climate protocols and have been forging their relations for decades to increase their cooperation against the menace of climate change.  Cards need to be played astutely by the leadership from both sides. The time is ripe, and though the international realm is a place for both competition and cooperation, the US and China need to search for propensity to curb the menace of climate change.

Ali Zafar

Mohammad Ali Zafar is currently pursuing a degree in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad.

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