What does the dispute between the United States and China mean for climate change?

China’s decision to halt cooperation with the United States on the climate crisis has sparked concern, with seasoned climate diplomats urging a swift resumption of talks to help avert worsening global warming.

Beijing announced, on Friday, a series of measures aimed at retaliating against the United States for the “terrible provocation” carried out by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, during her visit to Taiwan. China, which considers Taiwan its territory and has conducted large-scale military exercises near the island, said it would stop working with the United States on climate change, among other major issues.

While the extent of China’s withdrawal from climate discussions remains unclear, the move threatens to derail the often fragile cooperation between the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, with only a few months remaining before the crucial 27th United Nations conference in Egypt this fall. Experts say there is little hope of averting catastrophic global warming without strong action by the United States and China, which together are responsible for about 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The rupture in relations occurred amid a summer of disasters caused by climate change, with record heat waves and wildfires sweeping the United States and Europe, extremely high temperatures sweeping India and China, and devastating floods affecting the United States, South Asia and Africa.

The United States is on the cusp of historic climate legislation at home, but the world’s governments collectively are still not doing enough to avoid violating agreed-upon temperature targets. The goal of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius is to “support life” with a weak pulse, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned last month.

Lawrence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and lead architect of climate in Paris, said US-China relations have always been volatile and often escalate, but while you can freeze talks, you can’t freeze climate impacts. agreements.

It is in the self-interest of China and the United States to act on the climate and start talking. Indeed, China is aware of its own self-interest to act; It remains committed to Paris and is moving forward with domestic pledges around phased coal and methane reductions.”

The United States and China have accused each other of not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at various points in recent years. China attacked American “selfishness” when then-President Donald Trump rolled back various environmental protection measures in 2017, while Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, claimed last year that Chinese President Xi Jinping made a “big mistake” by not attending Cop26. Summit in Scotland.

However, the two powers made a breakthrough at the same talks in Glasgow in November, agreeing on a surprising plan to work together “urgently” to cut emissions. Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, said the two countries should “accelerate the green and low-carbon transition.” John Kerry, the US climate envoy, acknowledged that nations “have no shortage of differences” but that “cooperation is the only way to get this job done. This is about science and physics.”

This climate convergence has helped foster cooperation between US and Chinese organizations, as well as provide leadership to other nations, according to Nate Holtman, a former assistant to Kerry and current director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland.

“The United States and China working together is an important dimension of tackling climate change, and it has the potential to motivate others to do more,” Holtman said.

The broader relationship is very complex but both countries understand that this is not just a bilateral issue, there is a global dimension to that. This is what I hope will bring them back together. Hopefully this comment is short and they can get back to the table as soon as possible.”

Holtman said that while high-level climate talks can now be scaled back, other bilateral cooperation may continue, although details on this are still scant. He insisted that regardless of the situation between the United States and China, progress could still be made in the Cop27 talks in Egypt.

“This has been a challenge and sometimes we are going to get stuck,” Holtman said. “But Cop27 will not collapse only if the United States and China do not settle their differences. We will have to focus on what can be done as an international community.”

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