Finding Common Ground: The Need for Collaboration in Fighting Climate Change

On June 7, 2023, the products of over 400 Canadian wildfires painted NYC skies orange. Affecting almost the entire East Coast, the phenomena reignited global concerns about climate change and its effects. 

When people consider Chinese-US relations, their minds often jump to categories like geopolitical conflict, conflict, democracy vs. authoritarianism… things within these realms. But beyond these issues lies one that brings us together in our fate: climate change. And so it’s only become more clear that one of the more neglected elements of the China-US relationship— the renewable energy sector— is of grave global importance.

Whatever disputes the two governments might have with one another doesn’t change the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are the same no matter what country they come from, so collaboration and a sense of mutual responsibility are vital.

China and the US produce the two largest amounts of CO2 in the world. (11680 and 4535 Mt, respectively). So, it makes sense that the two nations are at the forefront of decreasing global carbon emissions. 

Both nations have already taken their own strides to reduce their footprint. China, in particular, is now the world’s largest investor in renewable energy. In 2022, they invested a whopping 546 billion dollars in solar and wind energy, electric vehicles, and batteries. According to CNBC, approximately 50% of all renewables built every year were built in China. Currently, Xi Jin Ping is on track to demolish his goal of creating 1200 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. 

The US Inflation Reduction Act offers just shy of 370 billion dollars in incentives to develop the clean energy industry. For example, the act provides immense subsidies for the purchase of electric cars or trucks. 

In the past, multilateral agreements like the Paris Agreement of 2015, established a global goal of reducing global warming. Additionally, the US-China Climate Change Working Group is composed of representatives from each country, working to promote collaboration through the sharing of practices, and technical expertise, and exploring joint initiatives to address the global challenge of climate change.

But increasing tensions between the US and China are threatening the strength of these efforts. US attempts to bolster domestic manufacturers by placing tariffs on over 300 billion dollars in Chinese goods have impacted American corporations and consumers. It made the flow of green technology across each country’s borders extremely expensive and has stifled the transition to renewable energy.   

It’s impossible to underplay the importance of joint research and development initiatives that can accelerate breakthroughs in renewable energy. Sharing expertise in solar, wind, and geothermal power can enhance the efficiency and affordability of these technologies, making them more accessible globally. Promoting collaboration between American and Chinese companies in clean energy investments and joint ventures can stimulate innovation and facilitate technology transfer. Global trade of these technologies—regardless of political terms— is a must. 

But all of this requires climate change to be prioritized as a point of collaboration. Climate change can and should be a point of common ground between the US and China. And it’s our job to make that happen.