Could climate cooperation reset US-China relations? Probably not—and better to focus on how to compete on climate technologies. Meanwhile, the US tries to onshore a graphite supply chain, Russia threatens global food supplies, the UK gets a second gigafactory (with a dose of China dependence), and foreign companies ramp up investment in US manufacturing. Plus: potential freight chaos ahead.
US climate enjoy John Kerry was in China this week seeking climate cooperation, even suggesting that working together on global warming could help redefine the troubled US-China relationship. Our take: seems unlikely.
Beijing sees energy as a matter of national security and a competitive domain through which to project power, gain leverage, and exact concessions. Singing the mantra of international cooperation to a geopolitical rival determined to take an adversarial approach to the renewable energy transition is likely to dead-end at best.
That’s not to say there’s no place for cooperation, even as Chinese leader Xi Jinping essentially snubbed Kerry’s overtures and said China would go its own way on emissions. But where Washington sees room for climate cooperation, Beijing sees competitive threat and opportunity.
Take methane emissions. Kerry says the issue is “particularly important for…cooperation” with China. Beijing disagrees. An op-ed this week in Chinese state media framed methane emission curbs as a potential “flashpoint in the US-China climate competition,” and also a way for Washington to “exert pressure on China.”
Tackling global warming will require global cooperation. Often, though, the language of cooperation can belie dependence: just look at China’s dominance over vast shares of numerous key clean-energy supply chains. The bottom line: the energy transition also fundamentally a technological and industrial competition with China.