Asia, Energy and Environment

The China Climate Challenge

Scott Moore, September 18, 2020

Recent studies showing that two of Antarctica’s largest glaciers are close to collapse, likely triggering some 10 feet of sea level rise, are a sobering reminder that the world is nearly out of time to prevent catastrophic climate change. If elected president of the United States, Joe Biden has been clear that tackling climate change will be a top priority, and his plan to do so has been widely praised by environmentalists. But one of the reasons climate change is so hard to solve is that it requires deep commitment not just from one country, but from many. That’s especially true of China, the world’s largest emitter, without which it is impossible to truly tackle the world’s climate crisis.

For that reason, many commentators argue that despite growing tensions between the United States and China, it’s essential to preserve diplomatic space to cooperate on climate change. Unfortunately, that will be much harder than it sounds. China’s leaders are likely to be receptive to the idea of climate cooperation with Washington – but not necessarily on terms that are favorable to U.S. foreign policy interests, and almost certainly not on terms that equal the scale of the climate crisis.

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