Cooperation Amidst Competition: China, the U.S., and Climate Change 竞争中的合作:中国,美国与气候变化

By Daniel Mikesell 大牛

NANJING, CHINA — 2021 is a pivotal year for global action on climate change. China’s emissions trading system is beginning to take shape, and the Biden administration is implementing a whole-of-government approach to tackle climate change. As the world’s largest CO2 emitters, China and the U.S. have unique roles in the international community’s shift toward sustainable development. The imperative to confront climate change is obvious, but how can these superpowers cooperate in the context of increased competition?

南京,中国 — 对国际社会来说,2021年是应对气候变化的关键之年。在中国,排污权交易制度开始逐渐成型;在美国,拜登政府在执行一种“整体政府”式的措施来应对气候变化。作为世界第一和第二大碳排放国,中国和美国在国际社会转向可持续发展的过程中扮演着特殊的角色。很显然,这两个超级大国必须直面气候变化,但在竞争不断加剧的环境中,它们该如何开展合作?

The first challenge for the U.S. is calibrating China’s development status. A land of contradictions, China is difficult to caricaturize. Rural-urban inequality is high, but the middle class is growing at unprecedented rates. The economy is huge, but average productivity across sectors is low. Chinese people apply for the most international patents, but creativity is stifled by oppressive political and social environments.

美国第一个挑战是评估中国的发展现状。中国是一个“矛盾之国”,中国的情况很难用夸饰的手法一言以蔽之。中国的城乡差距很大,但中产阶级在以前所未有的速度发展壮大;中国经济体量巨大,但若将各个经济领域视为一个整体,平均劳动生产率还比较低下;中国人申请的国际专利最多,但中国人的创意同时却被压抑的政治及社会环境所扼制。

Likewise, China is in a strange position vis-à-vis sustainable development. China continues to expand its fleet of coal-fired power plants but has also engendered huge technological leaps in solar power. China pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, but for now it has the world’s largest annual carbon emissions. Beijing has long advocated “common but different responsibilities” – the notion that all countries are not equally responsible for climate change, and that developed countries must bear a greater burden in international efforts against climate change. Now that China has eradicated extreme poverty and is officially an upper-middle income country, the view that it can blindly pursue economic growth without concern for the environment is increasingly unconvincing.

同样地,中国在可持续发展领域的地位也很尴尬。中国不断地新建火力发电厂,但同时也在推动太阳能发电的技术进步。中国承诺到2060年会实现碳中和,但现在它是世界年均碳排放第一大国。北京早就提倡共同但有区别的原则,认为不同国家对气候变化应承担的责任不同,并且发达国家在国际社会应对气候变化的努力中应担负较大的责任。目前中国已经消除了绝对贫困,正式成为了中等收入国家,因此在日后的发展中将越来越不可能像从前那样忽略环境、盲目地追求经济增长。

Americans should recognize China’s contradictions and adjust their expectations accordingly. When criticizing China’s high coal use, we should acknowledge that the coal industry is a pillar of China’s employment and energy security. Before demanding a complete shift away from fossil fuels, we should accept that natural gas is playing an important role in cleaning up China’s air. When criticizing China’s carbon emissions, we should remember that our per-capita carbon emissions are more than twice as high as our Chinese counterparts. China’s environmental and economic challenges will be solved not by American idealism but rather by contending with complex realities on their own terms. 

美国人则应意识到中国的矛盾所在,并据此调整自己的预期。美国在批评中国高煤使用量的同时,也应承认并理解煤炭行业是中国就业与能源安全的支柱之一。在要求中国完全放弃化石燃料之前,美国应意识到天然气对改善中国空气质量的重要性。在批评中国的高碳排放量的同时,美国应记得其人均碳排放量是中国的两倍多。美国的理想主义并不能解决中国面临的环境和经济挑战,直面复杂的现实,努力寻找出路才是解决之道。

Fossil fuels dominate China’s energy mix. Photo credit: International Energy Agency

以化石燃料为主的中国能源结构。

Foreign assessments of China’s environmental record tend to be simplistic. Foreign environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace that operate within China and toe the party line have been written off by critics as “useful idiots.” Western journalists often wrap scientific and ideological criticisms into one, speculating on the relationship between authoritarianism and environmental protection. Even well-intentioned outsiders may struggle to distinguish between Beijing’s rhetorical bluster and its concrete goals.

外国人对中国环境记录的评估往往过分简单草率。像绿色和平这样在中国境内活动、并遵循政府路线的外国环境非政府组织被批评者视为“有用的傻子”。西方记者往往把科学与意识形态混为一谈,妄自揣摩威权主义和环境保护之间的关系。即使是善意的局外人也常常难以分清北京的言论究竟是在虚张声势还是在设立具体的目标。

Lambasting China’s climate record is not enough. The U.S. must tackle its own climate challenges in order to gain the credibility necessary to hold major polluters accountable and craft international consensus on climate change. In this regard, the 45th U.S. President caused potentially irreparable damage by undermining domestic environmental standards and withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. The Biden administration has reversed course, but climate issues are split down partisan lines, so there is a risk that the 47th President will scorn climate science. The long-term question is whether the federal government attaches importance to climate change regardless which party occupies Congress and the White House.

对美国来说,言辞炮轰中国的环境记录远远不够。美国必须先解决它自己的气候问题,才能获得足够的信誉去要求其他的排放大国去承担责任,或者促进对气候变化的国际共识。就这一方面而言,第四十五任美国总统不仅降低了国内的环境标准,还退出了《巴黎协定》,对美国在气候议题上的信誉造成了巨大的、难以弥补的潜在伤害。拜登政府虽然扭转了局势,但美国两党在气候议题上意见仍然相左,因此很有可能第四十七任总统仍会轻视和忽略环境科学。从长远来看,美国的问题在于联邦政府能否在任何一党执政的情况下维持对气候变化的重视。

The tradition of federalism is another potential barrier to nationwide efforts to combat climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can’t require city councils nationwide to adopt stricter recycling practices; the Department of Energy can’t force every American to drive an electric car. Nevertheless, the Biden administration – as well as Republicans who are courageous enough to buck their party’s trend – must send repeated signals to the world that the U.S. is committed to sustainability. Powerful business interests must be overcome, and leaders must articulate a vision of sustainability that appeals to Americans across the political divide.

联邦制度的传统也是美国实行全国性气候变化应对政策的一大潜在障碍。美国环境保护署无法要求全国所有的市议会执行更严格的垃圾分类制度;美国能源部也不能要求所有美国人都驾驶新能源汽车。即使如此,拜登政府及那些敢于违反政党路线的共和党政客仍然必须向各个国家领导人重申美国对可持续发展的决心。应对气候变化必须被置于商业巨头的利益之上,领导人还需明确传达可持续性发展的愿景,以跨越党派分歧,吸引全体美国人。

The strategic competition between the U.S. and China does not preclude joint action on climate change. On the contrary, gaining strategic leverage and addressing climate change go hand-in-hand. After taking bold action on the domestic front and gradually increasing its credibility, the U.S. can marshal like-minded countries to pressure China to reduce its carbon footprint. Conversely, if the U.S. vacillates between democratic multilateralism and demagogic insularity, China will have more space to assert its position – and it already has.

中美战略竞争并不会阻止两国共同对应对气候变化的行动。反之,获得战略优势与对应气候变化是密切关联的。在大刀阔斧地执行的国内政策、逐渐提高其信誉之后,美国可以召集同一阵线的国家向中国施压,要求其减少碳足迹。反之,若美国在民主的多边主义和煽动性的“岛国心态”之间游移不定,中国则会拥有更多的战略空间来坚持立场。

There is genuine cause for hope regarding superpower cooperation on climate. For over a decade, the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center has engaged in R&D in areas such as energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction. China’s appointment of Xie Zhenhua as Special Envoy for Climate Change is a positive sign, given his prior working relationship with John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. These types of high-level avenues for communication must be maintained and built upon so that neither nation forgets that climate change, not each other, is the gravest threat of this century.

超级大国间的气候合作仍有保持的希望。十多年来,中美清洁能源联合研究中心一直致力于针对能源效率和温室气体减排的研究与开发。中国新任气候变化事务特使解振华曾经与美国气候变化事务总统特使克里(John Kerry)共事,这释放了一个积极信号。两国需要维持及发展类似的高层交流渠道,并谨记气候变化才是这个世纪最大的威胁,而不是彼此间的竞争。

Both China and the U.S. would be more suited for global leadership if they can channel their ambitions into cooperation on climate. As climate change worsens, only those nations dedicated to sustainable development will be worthy of the mantle of global leadership. Summoned to action against an existential threat, Chinese and American leaders across politics, business, media and academia must answer the call together.

如果中美两国能够将其雄心转化为气候合作,它们将更能胜任全球领导者的角色,因为随着气候变化的不断恶化,只有那些致力于可持续发展的国家才有资格担当起这样的重任。中美两国政界、商界、媒体界及学术界的领导者必须响应气候治理的号召,携手合作,共同应对气候变化这一事关生死存亡的威胁。

Daniel Mikesell is reporting from Bologna, Italy.

大牛从意大利博洛尼亚报告。

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