The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

China plays an essential role in any global climate solution

China’s significant role in determining our planet’s fate is coming into focus as the impacts of climate change unfold across the globe. The recent surge of Chinese investment in green technology is good news. Increased competition with the U.S. and the struggle of both nations to achieve the Paris Agreement’s emissions targets, however, are big challenges.   

China has come a long way when it comes to acknowledging risks presented by climate change. The nation has shown a commitment to work towards mitigating the worst-case climate scenarios. A majority of Chinese believed until quite recently that climate change is a pretext for Western powers to blunt the rise of the Middle Kingdom. As air pollution choked China’s cities after decades of double-digit economic growth, Chinese sentiment changed. Citizens began calling on their government to consider environmental issues along with economic output as it managed the country’s rapid growth.  

In addition to reacting to its restive population, the Chinese government realized that responding to climate change could hasten a shift from manufacturing basic goods to high-tech manufacturing. A green-tech revolution could help solve national environmental issues and power new growth.            

That idea resulted in China leading the world for the last decade in growing domestic capacity for renewable energy. According to a U.N. report, the Chinese have invested approximately $760 billion over the last decade, nearly double U.S. spending in this area. China is currently the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy. The nation produces nearly two-thirds of all global solar panel equipment. Analysts predict that will continue for at least the next five years. 

 Despite these laudable developments, problems with China’s increasing contribution to global carbon emissions remain. China increased emissions since 2005 by around 70 percent, currently producing nearly 14 gigatons of CO2. In comparison, U.S. annual output is around five gigatons. The U.S. accounts for around 11 percent of global emissions, while China comes in at 27 percent.           

China and developing nations assert that the burden of climate change should fall on developed economies, which poured carbon into the atmosphere as they were industrialized. But China has nearly caught up to the U.S. in terms of historic cumulative emissions, and will soon surge past it.            

Further complicating the issue is China’s strategic position on rare earth minerals. China mines 70 percent of minerals like dysprosium, terbium, and neodymium. These minerals are essential for high-tech components in medical devices, automobiles, defense equipment and numerous vital products. Not only does China have the majority of global deposits for such minerals, it is the leader in refining them for manufacturing.           

While China has more frequently used its power as a buyer to punish rivals — for example, its recent restrictions on importing Australian coal — it uses its leverage as a supplier, too. In  2010 China restricted exports of rare earth minerals to Japan because of a maritime dispute. Increasing tensions between the U.S. and China should lead U.S. policymakers to plan for China to impose similar restrictions on the U.S. in the future. The U.S. must use its considerable innovation resources to develop new technologies to free it — and the globe —  from Chinese monopolies on these minerals. Recycling materials using rare earth minerals is now an essential national security imperative. Policymakers should act accordingly.            

China is resistant to criticism. Lectures from the West about how the Chinese should combat climate change will backfire. Rather, a market-driven approach, such as cross-border adjustment fees that reflect the environmental costs of imported goods, is one way to encourage Chinese cooperation while offering a series of tangible climate benefits.            

Creating a carbon club with the European Union may offer the benefit of reducing climate emissions and strengthening relations with our transatlantic allies. A recent essay by Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster describes the benefits of such an arrangement but focuses on energy security and the threat from Russia. A carbon tariff on imported goods would capture the attention of the Chinese government, and economically incentivize it to work with the West to further reduce emissions.            

 While China has made strides when it comes to accepting climate change and shifting its economy accordingly, it is still more focused on its near-term development goals. China is still reluctant to accept a global agreement to limit mean temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or adhering to 2 degrees as the critical point, which scientists agree would lead to a global catastrophe. China even plans to continue increasing coal usage up until 2030, when it claims it will scale down towards a goal of energy neutrality in 2060.           

 The U.S. and China must find a way to coordinate on climate goals or they will undermine the efforts of all nations to work together on solving this existential issue. China’s outsized role in determining whether the world avoids the worst outcomes of climate change means that there is no solution without Chinese engagement. The continuing rivalry between the U.S. and China means that the U.S. must achieve a degree of independence for our supply chain and look to new approaches to fully address the environmental costs of imported Chinese goods.               

Sarah Hunt is CEO and president of The Joseph Rainey Center. Jeremy Hurewitz is a policy advisor on National Security at The Joseph Rainey Center. 

Tags Climate change Climate change mitigation Climate change policy Earth sciences Effects of climate change Greenhouse gas emissions Greenhouse gas emissions by China Kevin Cramer Natural environment

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

See all Hill.TV See all Video

main area bottom custom html

MAIN Area bottom

Main area bottom

Top Stories

See All

Most Popular

Load more