Major commitments from the United States and China have set the stage for concrete investments in emissions reductions in recent months. But according to climate negotiators, in order to retain credibility on the multilateral stage and drive investment from less motivated nations, the two countries must both make real progress toward implementing their own climate resolutions and learn to put aside broader differences to continue working together on this issue.
On Oct. 12, the University of Chicago and Peking University hosted the kickoff event for the UChicago-Peking University Joint Forum on Addressing the Climate and Energy Challenge. The opening event, co-organized with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, included a virtual fireside chat on climate democracy between Jonathan Pershing, former Deputy to the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry; and Ji Zou, former Deputy Director General of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation and was moderated by Lisa Friedman of The New York Times. The event also featured welcoming remarks from UChicago President Paul Alivisatos, Peking University’s President Gong Qihuang, and Consul General Zhao Jian.
Climate diplomacy between the United States and China has traditionally been a bright spot in international efforts to confront climate change and in the broader relationship between the two countries. As the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the pairing of China and the United States largely made the 2015 Paris Agreement possible and more recently paved the way for the Glasgow Climate Pact in 2021. However, recent events, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, have halted climate talks between the U.S. and China and thrown future cooperation into question.
Pershing and Zou are seasoned climate negotiators, having participated in many climate summits and worked with one another across the table for many years. The two discussed the leadership role of the U.S. and China and their need to demonstrate progress toward their own commitments to encourage the world to follow, as well as the necessity for the U.S. and China to rebuild at least single-issue political trust in this area.
According to Pershing: “I would like the U.S. and China to agree that climate change is too important not to take on at the most aggressive possible level. If we look at future damages and risks from climate change, they dwarf almost any other catastrophe we could imagine…. [Events like the recent flood in Pakistan that displaced 30 million people] is the best it’s going to be, not the worst. And for me, if we can’t put aside differences and move on this agenda, we’re going to have much, much more disaster to come.”