The Spectacle Blog

Obama Teams Up With China to Fight Climate Change

By on 7.22.13 | 6:15PM

The Obama administration has found an unlikely ally in its fight against climate change, as Chinese and American officials announced joint initiatives last week in their efforts to reduce global warming.

The initiatives include reducing emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, industry, and transportation. They also made plans to work together on experiments with “carbon capture” to isolate carbon dioxide from power plant emissions.

“This is a priority for the president and for me,” Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday. “The impact of climate change also has an impact on growth as well as security.”

Last month, Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to orchestrate a deal to cut down on hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The deal falls under the Montreal Protocol, a 1989 treaty intended to repair the ozone layer. Prior to the agreement, China sided with Brazil and India in opposition to such a deal.

As the world’s most populous country, China has long been perceived as a mass polluter. Over the last few years, it has begun to make advances in environmental protection. In 2010, the Chinese government spent over $30 billion subsidizing its solar panel industry.

“China is a huge weight in the global system,” Jonathan Pershing, the Energy Department’s top climate official and a former U.S. climate negotiator, said. “It has a developing country framework, so other developing countries say, ‘Certainly if China can do it, we can do it, too.’”

At the moment, it is unclear whether the agreements will actually come to fruition. The main aim of the U.S. is to be sure that China does not prevent any global agreements from proceeding. For example, the U.S. hopes to push an amendment made in conjunction with Canada and Mexico to reduce hydrofluorocarbon emissions prior to this year’s 25th meeting of Montreal Protocol countries.

There have been a series of disputes in the recent past between the U.S. and China, including Washington’s complaints to Beijing about cyberhacking and intellectual property. Relations between the two countries soured even more when China refused to extradite Edward Snowden before he fled Hong Kong.

“There are pressures on the U.S. and China to do something about global warming, and it happens to fit in with the idea of expanding cooperation to try to contain and hopefully reverse the growing strategic rivalry,” J. Stapleton Roy, a former U.S. Ambassador to China, said.

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