The US and China Need to Put Aside Their Rivalry and Focus on the Common Enemy: Climate Change

30-Oct-2019 Intellasia | Time | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The US worries that China has become a political and economic threat. China worries that the US is attempting to constrain it. These concerns increasingly resemble a classic Cold War conflict.

Such security threats are misplaced. Trade wars and technology competition notwithstanding, there is one overarching global security concern that by its very nature should lead to collaboration and cooperation rather than Cold War antagonism: climate change.

We are today witnessing a devastating global crisis in the making. It is happening worldwide, even as climate change’s impacts are immediately felt locally, regionally, and nationally. Make no mistakeferocious climate events are not just causing extensive physical damage and loss of livelihoodthey are creating insecurities that will grow each year and subsume all other existing security fears.

In the US, the annual average temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2016 and is expected to continue to rise, possibly doubling in just one or two decades. China’s official climate change assessment is even more sobering. As many as 641 of its 654 largest cities now experience regular flooding and Shanghai, one of the most prone to serious flooding, has already built 520 km of seawalls defending the city.

Around the world, climate change impacts could create destabilising crises in migrations of climate refugees, water availability, and food production, as well as climate-related disasters from massive and intense storms to fire, flooding, and deterioration of air quality. More and more, climate change will dominate political discourse, economic activity, and people’s well-being.

The US and China are vulnerable because both countries place such a high premium on security. Yet current responses about climate insecurity are minimal, particularly in the US under the current administration. Instead, the US is building walls to keep immigrants and climate refugees out, while heavily promoting fossil fuel development and undermining rather than encouraging decarbonisation initiatives. In China, climate concerns have increased substantially in the past ten years and efforts have been made to reduce domestic coal production. Yet, China is also the leading investor in financing coal plants globally that are generating more than 5,000 MW of energy, according to Global Energy Monitoring.

The US and China have a special global responsibility with climate change. The US has been the largest contributor historically to carbon emissions in the past 150 years and remains the largest per capita contributor today. China, meanwhile, is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases by volume. At the same time, the US, under the Trump administration, is in denial about its role, while China, even as it focuses on decarbonisation domestically, has not played a leading role globally through its external development policies.


Category: China

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