How climate change can push US and China to cooperate

Climate challenge requires nothing short of a collective international action


The United States officially rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on February 19, 2021. Trump administration had announced the withdrawal from this global accord in 2019, but the exit had become formally effective only on November 4, 2020. So, the critically important Paris Agreement was without the world’s most powerful country for only 107 days.

The return of the US to the global climate regime is thus more symbolic. Still, in one month, the Biden administration has taken several decisions on bringing new regulations and giving incentives to transit to clean energy in the country.

Biden has appointed John Kerry as the special presidential envoy on climate change and has been committed to achieving a zero-emissions energy grid by 2035 and carbon net neutrality by 2050. Biden is hosting a global leaders’ summit to talk about climate on April 22. For the US president to lead the world on climate, he needs to cooperate with China closely.

Ways to collaborate

Unless these two great powers find ways to collaborate and decide to work together, the world will surely fail to face the climate disaster. Climate change is not a virus that the powerful countries can confront in playing vaccine nationalism; it needs a global commitment to work together and take a cooperative approach.


Biden administration has been giving all the right signals 

for building trust and cooperation with China on climate change 

issues. Climate change has all the potential to push these two 

countries to cooperate, and that can produce the base for 

developing cooperative and dynamic relations to develop


Unfortunately, for the last four years, the relationship between the US and China had deteriorated on climate action. But the Biden administration has been giving all the right signals for building trust and cooperation with China on climate change issues. Climate change has all the potential to push these two countries to cooperate, and that can produce the base for developing cooperative and dynamic relations to develop.

Commentators and researchers usually see climate change as intensifying global environmental stress and insecurity. They argue that climate change may not itself be the sole cause of the violent conflict but can be a threat multiplier in society by increasing competition over natural resources and forcing people to migrate. Climate-induced environmental stress can potentially lead to war and violence.

Find peaceful solutions

In that case, it also has the force to bring cooperation as human survival has always depended on the collective ability to manage survival challenges and find peaceful solutions. This climate-induced cooperation is what the world expects to see between the US and China.

Despite mass fear and repeated warnings from policymakers and security analysts, the world has not yet witnessed countries fighting a war because of climate change. Instead, the nations came together in Paris in 2015 to sign a binding agreement to thwart climate change by reducing their greenhouse emission.

In recent years, there are numerous efforts in creating various institutions and regimes at the global and regional level to meet the climate change-induced security challenges. However, these efforts’ success will be very much dependent upon the cooperation between the US and China and the role they will play to goad others to be part of this global effort.

A country, however powerful and resourceful it might be, cannot solve many of the problems it is expected to face due to climate change.

Also, even if it wants, a country can’t even limit global greenhouse emissions. Thus, the challenges of climate change require nothing short of collective international action. The realisation of this has persuaded many countries, particularly the US and China, to be part of several collaborative efforts at the global level in the recent past.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 has been possible primarily due to a series of UN-sponsored annual conferences to manage climate change since 1995. In Paris, industrialised countries have also promised to mobilise $100 billion to support carbon emission cuts and climate adaptation.

The Paris Agreement signals the turning point for the world in the path to a low-carbon economy. It is to cut carbon emission and provide financial and technological support to poor developing countries for climate mitigation.

The rise of right-wing populist leaders in some key countries, particularly in the US, had brought some setbacks to this global cooperation against climate change. Even when Trump went against the Paris Agreement, China remained committed to it in taking aggressive actions to reduce pollution at home and invest heavily in renewable energy production and renewable technology.

Greater global cooperation

There is a need for a strategic partnership between the superpower US and the emerging superpower China and the developed and developing world to face climate change threats. The world is no doubt moving slowly but steadily towards translating the shared concern over climate change into greater global cooperation.

The increasing awareness about climate change and growing popular demand for concrete actions against it have started pushing reluctant political leaders to come together to take effective and coordinated necessary steps in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Popular movements are increasingly influencing global actions on climate change policies. With their increasing strength, sophistication, and network, they play a significant role in influencing more robust international policies and climate change programs.

The young generation has been raising the climate change issue for years, but recently it has become louder, more coordinated, and global, and their message is gaining ground.

The availability of new knowledge on climate change and growing popular movements demanding concrete actions have somewhat forced political leaders to prefer to work for a sustainable future than to focus only on short-term unilateral economic gains.

These collective actions have brought a series of ‘minimalist’ changes and created hopeful signs for getting a peaceful response to meet the climate crisis.

The real and sustainable success of these efforts will come if these minimalist changes lead to transformational changes in countries and societies to rethink their ways of living and commitment to the global commons. This gigantic process needs the US and Joe Biden to lead the world in close cooperation with China and Xi Jinping


Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, at Uppsala University, Sweden. Source: Gulf News