China and United States Pledge to Combat Climate Change at September G20 Summit

Photo courtesy of | President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced collaborative strategies to combat climate change at the G20 Summit.

Photo courtesy of | President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced collaborative strategies to combat climate change at the G20 Summit.

Miliha Rahim ’17J
Contributing Writer

These days, everyone’s eyes are on China. From the South China Sea conflict, to the newly opened Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to the wide circulation of the popular instant messaging app, WeChat, it seems that the Chinese are dominating international headlines on a weekly basis. Xi Jinping, who heads the Chinese Communist Party and currently serves as the President and Leader, has also been frequently appearing in the media with his iron fisted domestic and foreign policy initiatives.

The long-awaited annual G20 summit was held earlier last week from September 4 to 5 in Hangzhou, China. The long-time tourist destination saw enormous amounts of targeted infrastructure development in preparation for the summit, much alike the tremendous evolutions brought about by the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as well as the 2010 Shanghai World Expo in each respective city. A significant number of global leaders, including President Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Korean President Park Geun-Hye, and the Chinese President Xi himself, attended this year’s G20 Summit. The conference aimed to prioritize multilateral economic cooperation initiatives among member nations, but other topics were certainly discussed. These include the South China Sea issue, as expected, and the furthering fortification of the Sino-Russian relationship, given that “high-ranking officials openly claim that Vladimir Putin will be be the guest of honor at the G20 summit”.

Despite the vast amount of ground covered at the G20 summit, it can be argued that one of most interesting developments to take place last week centered upon Xi Jinping’s ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, promising to reduce carbon emissions. As a resident of Shanghai myself, I can verify that the pollution rumors are true. Some days, vision of tops of the Finance District’s skyscrapers is entirely lost in a heavy layer of smog suspended atop the city skyline.

The United States also signed the Paris Climate Agreement; both superpowers remain guilty of being the world’s dominant carbon emitters and are now working together to facilitate Paris negotiations. The result of this development on Sino-American relations is sure to be closely watched; these are certainly interesting political gestures which have a good chance of solidifying the bilateral relationship. At the Summit, both President Obama and President Xi pledged their involvement in combating climate change to the best of their abilities. “The U.S. and China agreed to prepare and publish their respective long-term emission strategies, phase down their consumption and production of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons and take actions domestically to combat climate change and accelerate the use of renewable energy, according to the White House,” they said in a joint statement.

Chinese-American relations have always remained under a marked lens of media scrutiny. Their alliance has indeed had its share of conflicts over the years. China has sprung up as a truly metropolitan, modern and fiscally developed entity, worthy of challenging the United States’ position as an economic hegemony in the world order post-World War II. Shanghai alone, the nation’s largest, and arguably most cosmopolitan, city has seen massive changes in infrastructure and economic development within the last several decades, proving a fierce rival to the United States. Returning to Shanghai this summer after about five or six years, I found the skyline nearly unrecognizable. In my opinion, China sets a brilliant example for potential American technological growth through its high-speed cross-country railways systems and continued smartphone innovation.

This focus on environmental issues is a significant move on behalf of both countries. The next question to consider is whether or not their bilateral business interests will be impacted by climate cooperation on the matter of reducing carbon emissions. “Obama credited U.S. and China leadership as a major reason for the agreement in Paris, and said he plans to continue deepening the U.S. relationship with China even after he leaves office. ‘There’s no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet,’ Obama told leaders in Honolulu,” a recent article said in describing the events of the G20 Summit.

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