acemoglu42_Jeff J MitchellGetty Images_cop26 us china Jeff J MitchellGetty Images

Climate Change vs. the Sino-American Cold War

In the absence of meaningful policies from both China and the United States, this year’s climate-change summit, COP26, was never going to deliver what the world really needs. Ultimately, getting both countries on the same page and cooperating on the issue will require public pressure from their own people.

CAMBRIDGE – The last-gasp effort at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius, relative to preindustrial levels, was destined to fall short, regardless of how many heads of state and business leaders flew to Glasgow. For the world to meet even a 2°C target requires collaboration between the United States and China.

Climate change represents a unique opportunity for the two countries to cooperate, and their surprise announcement of a plan to work together on curbing methane emissions provides some hope. But the current geopolitical environment stacks the cards against broad cooperation.

To have even a fighting chance of achieving the Paris climate agreement’s objectives, the world must reduce consumption of coal, oil, and gas to almost zero in the next decade, implying that most available fossil-fuel reserves must remain in the ground. That outcome is not in the cards, despite all the recent decarbonization pledges.