Foreign Policy Blogs

Climate Change – A Global Issue, A Global Solution

Photo: John McConnico/Associated Press

Successful solutions to the world’s most pressing issues – international trade, global financial institutions and regulations, nuclear proliferation, human rights, failed and fragile states, terrorism, poverty, health and diseases, energy and climate change – will increasingly rely on the cooperation and leadership of rising powers. Answers developed by the G7 group of rich countries without the participation of emerging economies will not enjoy the same results. With no buy in, hope is lost.

Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge facing the world today. Temperatures are warming, ice is melting, oceans are rising and climates are transforming. An interesting Think Again appears in the current issue of Foreign Policy. Bill McKibben argues that the science is settled, but the true question is whether countries will take meaningful actions to save the planet. The Council on Foreign Relations also developed a useful interactive feature on climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005 in order to curb the production of greenhouse gases and minimize humanity’s impact on the world’s climate. But, the globe’s two largest emitters of carbon dioxide – China and the United States – have not fully participated in limiting their own emissions. In the last few years, China overtook the US as the world’s leading emitter (although not on a per capita basis) and the two account for over 40% of the world’s total.

Without the participation of the US and China, any international accord is toothless. Recognizing the importance, climate change will become a focal point in the dialogue between the two countries.

Common Challenge, Collaborative Response, a recent report released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations, provides a roadmap on cooperation between the two countries on the fight against climate change. Over 50 experts state:

“A new comprehensive program for cooperation between the United States and China that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thus mitigating the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change, is both necessary and possible…the United States and China—respectively the world’s largest developed and developing nations, the two largest energy consumers, and the two largest producers of greenhouse gases—have no alternative but to become far more active partners in developing low-carbon economies.”

For more on the report, check out the commentary in Wednesday’s Guardian.

At an event last week at the Brookings Institution, Kenneth Lieberthal and David Sandalow presented their report on Overcoming Obstacles to US-China Cooperation on Climate Change. The authors detailed the hurdles and outlined nine recommendations for how US and Chinese leaders should work together. During the event, the Chinese Ambassador to the US, Zhou Wenzhong, said:

“Due to China’s national conditions, we are still faced with enormous challenges in addressing climate change. We have a huge population, and the level of our economic development remains low. Therefore, our most urgent mission is to eliminate poverty and develop the economy for the well-being of one-fifth of the world’s people…The Chinese side is ready to maintain the close cooperation with the U.S. side and continue to be an active and responsible participant and contributor to international cooperation on clean energy and climate change.”

2009 is a critical year. Kyoto expires in 2012 and the race to complete a new deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December is underway. The global issue requires a global solution. Leadership and cooperation are essential to break the US-China suicide pact of self-destructive behavior on climate change.

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Photo from John McConnico/Associated Press.



David Kampf

David Kampf is a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC. He is also a columnist for Asia Chronicle. He analyzes international politics, foreign policy and economic development, and his pieces have appeared in various publications, including China Rights Forum, African Security Review and World Politics Review. Recently, he directed communications for the U.S. Agency for International Development and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Rwanda. Prior to living in East Africa, he worked in China and studied in Brazil, India and South Africa.

Area of Focus
International Politics; Foreign Affairs; Economic Development