As the COP-15 meetings draw closer, some observers note that at the end of the day, measureable progress will hinge on the cooperation of two nations – China and the United States. The two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, these powerhouses will ultimately decide the extent of the forward progress made in Copenhagen. Regardless of how desirable it is for two countries to monopolize the debate to such an extent, it is clear that the situation is very much a double-edged sword for climate negotiators.
For long-time observers of the Sino-US relationship, the inability of the US to persuade China to adopt key policy concessions is another sign that the balance of power in Asia may be shifting.
Chinese negotiators are clear that they will enter the COP-15 negotiation with Chinese economic and development priorities at the forefront of their climate platform.
There is little doubt that a failure to compromise could jeopardize the outcomes of the Copenhagen meetings before they begin. UN climate secretary Yvo de Boer summed it up, “If these two countries don’t cooperate further, then we’re not going to get a result.” At the center of the dispute is the commitment level that developing nations must make in reducing GHG emissions, and China has consistently maintained that industrialized countries must shoulder the brunt of the reductions.
With China’s economy rebounding ahead of that of the U.S., growing trade imbalances between the two nations, and a continued need for the US to fund a domestic bailout scheme with borrowed foreign dollars, the negotiating power of the U.S. is arguably diminished. The COP-15 negotiations may mark a significant change in the perception of the international community about where the seat of global economic power will reside going forward with the outcomes of the COP-15 bearing significance beyond the technical details of any agreement that is reached. Outcomes will play an important role in reshaping perceptions of power and a “win” by China will signal a decrease in American influence across Asia.
U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern has expressed hope, however, that an “accommodation” can be reached with China.
Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Simon Tay indicated at the 2009 PISA Summer Institute on Global Climate Change that China may also be forced into action by the Obama administration. Tay pointed out that American recalcitrance can no longer be used as an excuse for inaction. Indeed, the world is watching these two nations: are they boxers entering the ring for the ultimate prize of superpower status and regional dominance or will China and the US meet as equals with different national priorities but a shared vision of building a sustainable future and understanding of the mutual sacrifice needed to halt the consequences of climate change?