US-China climate pact could signal global cooperation

An agreement to reduce carbon emissions could set the tenor for mobilizing against one of humankind's most pervasive challenges.



May 11, 2021 - 9:49 AM

John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Abaca Press/TNS)

The United States’ relationship with China remains fraught largely due to the latter’s treatment of Hong Kong, its human rights abuses in the Xinjiang province, intellectual property theft and more. Nevertheless, President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, visited China to eke out an agreement to reduce carbon emissions, setting aside the countries’ differences on a critical issue at a critical moment.

The agreement does not include many specific commitments. However, it could set the tenor for mobilizing against one of humankind’s most pervasive challenges. Combating climate change will require buy-in from the world’s leading countries, and even a vague agreement is a step toward the kind of unity needed to reach solutions. It also hints at the possibility of productive cooperation in other matters between the two world superpowers.

The U.S. is no stranger to incremental change and compromise, both domestically and abroad. Taking too firm a line against China is nonsensical. The complexities of international politics make lines in the sand nearly impossible and certainly inadvisable.

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