Since President Obama took office, climate change and new energy sources have taken a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy. Based on the increased number of executive orders passed by the Obama administration and the bills being debated on Capitol Hill, it is apparent that the United States will be a determined figure in promoting the issues of climate change and new energy resources.
China currently stands front and center in the congressional debate and President Obama's executive negotiations, due to China's contribution to global emissions and competitiveness in global trade. With its large population, rapidly expanding economy and heavy reliance on coal, China now shares the lead in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the United States. China's GHG emissions are expected to continue growing in the years ahead, based on projections of continuing rapid economic growth. Most American experts generally agree that emissions in all major countries must be abated in order to stabilize the growth of GHG concentrations that lead to climate change.
Since the beginning of the year, lots of American politicians, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have visited China frequently and expressed high hopes of cooperation between the United States and China. This comes ahead of key climate change talks. Even Nancy Pelosi, who is traditionally a strong figure when it comes to human rights issues, put aside her own agenda and heeded President Obama's climate change policy to China. These events indicate that climate change will be the soft strategic issue of Sino-US relations in the coming years. Especially with the Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue later this month and the United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen later this year, both China and the United States will face tough challenges at the climate change talks.
As climate change is a public good for people all around the world, all countries and NGOs should undoubtedly take part in governing it. No country can escape the responsibility of climate change, and China should not shirk its responsibility to work with other countries and NGOs to promote campaigns that will protect the environment. If the US and China can find a way to cooperate on climate change, the world can be a much safer and cleaner place in just ten years. The cooperation will contribute not only to both countries, but to the world over. Although many disputes still exist between the two nations, the Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue will be a dialogue between partners: we are equally involved, have equal responsibility, equal interest, and equal amounts to lose and gain. As President Hu Jintao said in 2002, "for China and the United States, cooperation benefits both, while contention hurts both." Climate change will only be promoted in the future through joint dialogue and sincere cooperation between the two counties.
However, there's more to the issue than just good will, and reality cannot be over-looked. After all, China and the US are different countries with different histories, different levels of modernization and different scales of population and resources. China is still a developing country with a huge population. Making employment opportunities available for average people, promoting industrialization and urbanization, and ensuring everyone's fundamental living still dominate the policy agendas of Chinese government. China has no choice but to adopt an incremental strategy on the governing of climate change. Meanwhile, it is important to acknowledge that GHG emissions per person in China are still very low, and that raising incomes must be our highest priority; industrialized countries bear the primary responsibility for the historical buildup of GHGs and should thus lead in mitigating emissions domestically. Industrialized countries should assist developing countries to mitigate emissions and adapt to the coming change. In short, from China's developing reality, the Chinese government must adhere to the principle of "common but differentiated" responsibilities, as agreed upon in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The problems associated with climate change that China and the US must deal with will be present in the coming years. The key to solving the problems will be determined by to what extent these two countries accommodate and respect each other. As the only super power and the biggest of the developed nations, the United States should recognize China's social realities and large population, and actively work with China to promote the process of climate change. This is the sole way to overcome the numerous difficulties and challenges that lie ahead.