Climate Change Cooperation Can Produce Win-Win Results

The U.S.-China joint statement on climate change is a demonstration that by working together, the two countries are very much capable of yielding results that are beneficial not only to themselves but the world at large.

On Nov. 10, China and the United States issued a joint declaration on climate change at the United Nations climate conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland. The agreement, which is titled “Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s,” obligates both sides to address the issue of climate change. It sets out their “firm commitment to work together and with other parties to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement” and that “they are intent on seizing this critical moment to engage in expanded individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy.”

In the joint declaration, the two countries agreed to cooperate closely during the next 10 years on a range of climate-related issues, including methane emissions, fossil fuel reduction and clean energy technologies.

The statement comes as a surprise during a time of extraordinary difficulties in U.S.-China relations as a whole. Yet despite these differences, the joint declaration has been hailed as a huge achievement. It is a demonstration that the two countries are very much capable of yielding results when they choose to work together and cooperate in good faith, as opposed to espousing suspicion and confrontation. The agreement should be a model for what the countries should ultimately aspire to in managing their relationship, and how the greater good can find common interests with respect to Washington and Beijing.

Aerial photo taken on Mar. 3, 2021 shows a solar thermal power project in Gonghe County, northwest China’s Qinghai Province. (Photo/Xinhua)

Behind individual blame games and scapegoating, both countries are nonetheless obligated to work together on climate change by the pressing reality that they share one planet and by extension one future. In addition, as the world’s two largest economies, the joint efforts of the U.S. and China are critical in determining the ultimate outcome of the fight against climate change.

Moreover, this form of cooperation should not be an exception, but rather the principle of U.S.-China relations and a model of responsibility in how both countries understand their role together in the world as its biggest stakeholders. Climate is not the only area whereby cooperation, multilateral engagement and good faith relations are necessary to making progress. Rather, the same attitude is required to achieve global peace, stability, security and prosperity.

Therefore, the message is that U.S.-China relations – as climate cooperation shows – should never be a zero-sum game, but should be handled according to a philosophy of restraint, pragmatism and cooperation which acknowledges that they have common interests and must work together to secure these needs. Cooperation is not, as the previous U.S. president made it out to be, a weakness, appeasement or capitulation at America’s expense, but a process of maturity which can produce win-win results.

This does not mean, of course, that the U.S. and China cannot have differences in perspective or view, but the key is how these differences are managed, without framing every issue in terms of competition. On climate change, the U.S. recognizes that it cannot succeed without China’s help, but the same is true for other areas too.

This declaration is a rare glimmer of hope in difficult times, and its lessons should engineer the space to move forward on other issues too. Irrespectively though, the battle for climate change is a battle for humanity. Some things are ultimately more important, and climate change is one of them.