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Climate change requires US and China to cooperate not compete, experts warn

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“Looking back, what has been so successful has been … our willingness to forge consensus on important issues, our willingness to collaborate and cooperate [for] local public good and our willingness to agree to disagree,” said Bo Li, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund. “At a challenging time like this, this willingness is both scarce and enormously valuable.”

Li, speaking at the Harvard College China Forum under the theme “Telling the US-China Story”, highlighted in particular the bleak outlook for global warming, adding that the world is far behind even its anaemic pledges to reduce greenhouse gas and needs the leadership of China and the US.

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Greenhouse gases need to be cut by at least 25 per cent by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Li said, yet //countries’s// announced targets would only bring it to 11 per cent – and even that is questionable given the shortage of political will.

“International coordination is key,” Li said. “Between the US, China, India and Europe, it would cover 60 per cent of global emissions and spur the rest of the world to action … Climate is a major threat to global economic stability, growth and jobs, not to mention life and health.”

Citizens of the two countries need to hold their leaders accountable and bolster that political will, said Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations, whether involving climate change or a host of other bilateral issues and irritants.

“You have a unique understanding of China and the United States,” he told the audience of mostly Chinese Harvard students. “And when you know that the US government’s policy is wrong or the Chinese government’s policy is wrong, you need to speak out. If you don’t take the opportunity that you have got seriously, I despair [of] the future of US-China relations.”

Led by Beijing and Washington, with their formidable industrial prowess and financial clout, the world needs to adopt and meet more ambitious climate targets, embrace carbon trading and find ways to raise and channel trillions of US dollars of private sector capital into the clean-energy transition, Li said.

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Speakers at this weekend’s forum said such a large transition must take into account the profit motive.

Among those speaking at the forum were William Li, founder and chairman of Chinese electrical vehicle company Nio, and Shawn Qu, founder and chief executive of Canadian Solar.

Both touted their role in the global energy transition, although they spent more of their time talking about corporate growth, expansion and stock exchange listings.

William Li, co-founder of NIO Inc., was one of the participants at the Harvard forum on Saturday. Photo: Bloomberg

Qu highlighted in particular the explosive growth of artificial intelligence, information and data technology and its often overlooked gluttonous appetite for power. This is forecast to fuel a 10-fold increase in electricity demand from 800 terawatt hours per day to 8,000 per day by 2030. One terawatt hour is enough to cool 500,000 homes for a full year.

“This is a technological breakthrough, but crucially we have to make sure we don’t compromise clean energy goals,” Qu said.

Orlins said it took great political courage for then US President Jimmy Carter and Chinese Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping to normalise diplomatic relations in 1979 and at this “time of difficulty”, similar courage is needed to nudge the two largest economies closer together.

“What we need today is bravery from our leadership,” he said. “If they are brave, if they do the right thing, the relationship will be more productive.”

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