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Will China Fill the Void of US Climate Leadership in G-20?

The G-20 just concluded its annual meetings in Hamburg, Germany, where all the countries except the United States reaffirmed their joint commitment to the Paris Climate accord, an agreement the United States led in brokering. After President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the climate accord, a groundswell of thousands of states, governors, mayors, cities, businesses and organizations vowed to remain committed in the “We Are Still In” pledge.

Despite these commitments, the absence of official U.S. government involvement and engagement leaves a void that presents China with an opportunity to fill the vacuum of leadership.

There are many complexities in the U.S.-China relationship; however, despite other challenges, climate change emerged as an important opportunity for collaboration given that the two economic powerhouses combined emit 44 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide. In September 2016, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping agreed that both nations would join the Paris Agreement.

As part of the agreement, both sides announced goals that would help reach common outcomes. The U.S. committed to reduce its carbon emissions by 28 percent by 2025 (versus a 2005 baseline), and China announced two goals: peaking greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030, and increasing non-fossil sources to 20 percent of total energy by 2030. By March 2016, China’s 13th five-year-plan stated the intent to reduce energy intensity by 15 percent and carbon intensity by 18 percent compared to 2015 levels. Consequently, it looks like China will not only live up to its commitments, but will reach its commitments sooner than expected.

Considering the Trump Administration’s climate approach, whether this aspect of bilateral cooperation can continue is now an open question.

In contrast, the messages from Beijing suggest the Chinese government’s resolve: during President Xi’s recent speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, he stated that the Paris Agreement was hard won and that countries must take responsibility for future generations. Domestically, China has tightened up environmental regulations at both state and local levels, and is undertaking a massive increase in renewable energy production. Comparing the messages from the U.S. and China leaves many questioning whether the United States has ceded its leadership on climate change.

Regardless of the U.S. government’s stance on climate change, the technology industry has committed to lead on environmental and sustainability priorities. The private sector’s pioneering work can help provide a model for China to follow in developing its green supply chain and encouraging its Chinese partners to promote green sourcing and align with global standards. Finally, the leading role of the U.S. in the fields of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence have great potential for smart cities and climate change mitigations that the Chinese urgently need.

For example, in July 2014, IBM launched a Green Horizon ten-year initiative that aims to empower China’s sustainable urbanization in air quality management, renewable energy, and industrial energy efficiency. Apple’s newest China environmental progress report shows they commit to 100% renewable energy for their operations, and that 14 final assembly sites are now zero-waste.

For the competitiveness of a sustainable future, the technology industry sees itself as part of the solution to reduce carbon emissions and to advance our leadership by deploying the best technologies to reduce carbon. Our commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability is ongoing, and we will continue to be the pioneer of a cleaner future for the United States, China, and the world.

Public Policy Tags: Environment & Sustainability, Energy