Can China and the US Cooperate on Climate Change? – The Diplomat

At last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, China and the United States surprised observers by hastily signing a joint action plan. Equally astonishingly, the “dual action” by the two powers at the COP27 EU-US-sponsored ministerial meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh was a welcome sign for observers and diplomats alike.

Following Biden’s meeting with President Xi in Bali, China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua joined U.S. envoy John Kerry for an unannounced event dedicated to reducing methane emissions. Xie expressed support for China’s yet-to-sign-up methane pledge, a clear affirmation of the resumption of official engagement between China and the United States on all climate issues — cooperation that came to an abrupt end after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

However, it remains to be seen whether the restart of official negotiations will yield tangible results or translate into concrete, actionable plans. It is especially timely to question whether Beijing and Washington can work together to develop technologies and regulatory frameworks that are considered critical to mitigating the effects of climate change and reducing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Although they allegedly agreed to keep the climate dossier isolated from the broader and highly contentious context of their bilateral relationship, their status as technological competitors, combined with the importance of technological supremacy to the ability to project power, will seriously hinder climate change Prospects. A common approach between China and the United States to address climate change.

Climate Change Geopolitics and Technological Innovation

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The geopolitics of climate change, or more precisely, the geopolitical side effects of climate change, can be discussed from three different angles.

The first is the overarching issue of food and resource security, and the prospect of some countries turning their domestic food production capacity into an instrument of power.

Second, climate change can also be discussed as a threat multiplier. For example, where sociopolitical tensions are already high or where regulatory frameworks for extractive activities are unclear, climate change may further exacerbate tensions.

A third strategic impact of climate change has to do with its unequal effects both between and within countries, with winners and losers likely to develop conflicting views on reversing or consolidating climate change impacts.

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On the other hand, the geopolitics of technology and technological innovation can be approached from two perspectives: a systems-level perspective, which views technological innovation as a power booster; and a postmodern or critical perspective, which emphasizes how states exercise power and and/or agenda setting.

With regard to the former, it can be said that modern diplomacy and warfare are only possible with recent technological advances. Whether it is shuttle diplomacy, digital diplomacy, remote-controlled drones, or the use of virtual reality as a more cost-effective alternative to traditional pilot training corps, there is no doubt that the conduct of warfare and diplomacy is directly related to technological progress. In this What the situation highlights is that there is a strong technological element to any nation’s ability to project power and defend its vital national security interests. As Mark Leonard said, “Power and influence are forged at the intersection of technology and geopolitics.”

With regard to the latter, an accepted view is that those who set the standards rule. More precisely, a person can exert significant influence if the rules of conduct or parameters of responsible behavior are based on or rooted in their norms and values. It’s no surprise, then, that the United States has been alarmed by China’s more hands-on agenda-setting practices in international forums or the rapid expansion of Chinese technology companies into other markets. Washington worries that the more Chinese tech products are used globally, the easier it will be for China to export its values ​​and set the rules of the game.

The link between technical cooperation and environmental cooperation

To understand the link between technology and climate change, one need look no further than Beijing and Washington’s respective action plans to address environmental degradation and the adverse effects of rapid warming. Both countries have made technological innovation and labor market upskilling a strategic priority in their fight to tackle the looming climate crisis and push to create a green economy.

Strategic technologies considered critical to addressing and mitigating the effects of climate change can be divided into two groups. On the one hand, there are technologies that make use of so-called clean energy sources, such as plants, geothermal or solar energy. On the other side are technologies that are critical to the energy industry, as they can make traditional forms of energy not only cleaner, but also more efficient. Relevant examples include coal gasification, carbon capture and storage, and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) technologies.

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In addition, there are some technologies that fall between the above two groups. One group includes technologies necessary to make the material production process more environmentally friendly and to increase the life cycle and efficiency of materials. Another group includes space-related technologies and artificial intelligence. Once countries develop the ability to process large volumes of satellite data more frequently, a more complete picture of the impacts of climate change will be possible. Doing so will require advances in satellite technology and machine learning so that more data can be processed in less time.

Can we cooperate?

From a global perspective, China and the United States must put aside their strategic differences and seek to maximize cooperation on climate change. This is so because the climate crisis is a global threat and therefore tackling it requires a global effort. However, the problem today is that the strategic priorities of China and the United States are inconsistent. Although they share a common view of climate change as an urgent national and global security threat, their national interest in overriding each other for global hegemony makes it difficult for the two to work together to address the climate crisis.

While the chances of an all-out war between the U.S. and China remain slim, it is clear that the two countries are locked in a technological cold war, as evidenced by their aggressive decoupling efforts. Driven by what Alex Capri has described as techno-nationalism, the behavior of China and the US can best be described as “mercantilist-like”. This view links a country’s national security, economic competitiveness, and sociopolitical stability to technological progress.

Buoyed by its impressive economic growth, China now seeks endorsement of its governance model, which it claims is superior to Western liberal democracies on many key metrics. For its part, the United States is determined not to grant such recognition. Thus, as Chinese diplomats tout the virtues of their model and entice developing countries to follow China’s path, U.S. officials seek to counter these efforts by emphasizing the normative flaws of the Chinese model, such as the lack of respect for human rights and the individual. privacy.

This competition is not surprising. After all, leadership and continued innovation in Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will surely bring critical economic, political, and military power. That’s why both countries have invested heavily in funding research and development of such technologies, and in the process have developed a zero-sum view of each other’s progress, where China’s gains are seen as U.S. losses, and vice versa. vice versa. This trend was most vividly displayed during the confirmation hearings of Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd Austin. Austin said he would maintain a “laser focus” on strengthening America’s “competitive advantage” against China’s growing military power, describing Beijing as America’s “most significant future threat”.

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However, a strategic divide is highly unlikely, as the U.S.-China technology competition is not limited to an innovation race. Instead, it consists of a fierce and rapidly intensifying competition to establish the regulatory framework for the development and governance of new technologies, pitting two disparate value systems against each other. From China’s Global Data Security Initiative and its recently updated Personal Information Protection Law aimed at countering the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, to the United States’ revival of the G-7 AI Treaty and its Wassenaar Arrangement.

in conclusion

Throughout history, nations have sought a technological advantage in order to outmaneuver their opponents strategically and to wield power and influence beyond their immediate borders. Therefore, the current state of the Sino-US technology dispute is not surprising. Nor should they be unable to co-invent technologies deemed critical to combating climate change, nor to cooperate in scaling up such technologies. Know-how and technology transfer are seen as tools of influence and influence that China and the United States can use to tilt other countries into their sphere of influence. This trend could lead to further divisions and an unfortunate return of the Cold War mentality in global politics.

More broadly, the two superpowers are unlikely to separate climate change from the broader strategic context of their bilateral relationship, simply because of the value between their governance models as the power gap between them narrows. The gap has widened. Indeed, China made this clear on the eve of Kerry’s visit to Tianjin last year, when Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the idea of ​​separating climate issues from other policy issues.

Technological cooperation on climate change will only be possible if Beijing and Washington manage to create a high-level committee to regulate their technological competition; attack. As long as this setup is absent, their prospects for technical cooperation on other fronts, including climate change, remain illusory.


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