Wouldn't it be nice if China and the United States fixed the problem of climate change? Wouldn't it be nice if the globe's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, the two largest energy users and the two largest industrial producers found a way to help each other succeed on an issue that neither they, nor anyone else, can afford to lose?
Wouldn't it be nice if they did so by signing a bilateral agreement to help each other gain better access to critical technologies, best practices and investments to grow their economies and also reduce energy use and expand clean energy sources, stimulate efficient transportation and land use and advance sustained management of resources?
Wouldn't it be nice if they created a model of cooperation for other nations to follow? And did so in time to help all nations reach a new accord on climate change by 2015 and slow the dangerous growth in greenhouse-gas emissions that is already making itself felt through extreme weather, sea-level rise and costly disasters?
One hopes such cooperation is not far away, but substantive bilateral agreements between superpowers are no small order and take time — the one thing we don't have when it comes to tackling climate change.
But, what if two of the world's most important "sub" superpowers acted first? What if the largest, most powerful state in the United States and a leading province in China joined forces? What if a wave of similar actions made the unlikely prospect of national cooperation an emerging reality? Could these two sub-superpowers start a process that might enable their respective nations — and ultimately others — to forge a strong cooperative agreement more quickly and easily?
Could that happen?
Yes. It has already begun — and it started on April 15 in Guangzhou, China, with the signing of a climate-change agreement between the state of California and the province of Guangdong. A series of cooperative actions and instruments are now on a fast track to help both achieve new goals for economic growth, energy sustainability and a healthy environment. [Oceans Are Feeling the Heat: Op-Ed]
That subnational agreement comes just days after the two nations signed a “call to action” on the fight against climate change and formed a new U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group under the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The statement was strong and clear about the dangers facing our planet if climate change continues unabated, and the need to develop solutions through low-carbon development. While the details of the national compact will be worked out in July, the Guangdong-California agreement can provide clear guidance right now on what really needs to be done at the ground level. Taken together, those two agreements provide a clear indication that the two nations will approach climate, economy and energy as intertwined issues, and should dispel any notion that the two cannot find common ground on future pathways.
But how much of a dent can one state and one province really make at the national and global levels?
For starters, Guangdong is the industrial and manufacturing center of China, and home to 118 million people — more than a third of the United States population. It's annual economic growth rate weighs in at a steady 8 percent (ouch!). It is the center of China's market transformation and reform, and the engine of its planned economic and energy transition, of which carbon management now plays a central role. It is one of China's most rapidly urbanizing regions, and leading the nation's shift to sustainable industrial approaches. The Canton Fair remains the world’s largest marketplace for global economic matchmaking. Speed, size, reach — Guangdong has it.
California weighs in somewhere between seven and nine on the list of world economies (double ouch!). It exceeds many other nations not only in economic output, but also in sustained innovation, investment and development of new markets. Southern California remains one of the largest manufacturing centers in the world and a global investment hub. California understands that energy, environment and economy are integrated parts of the world's future engine. By embracing this triangle and enhancing it, California has led many national breakthroughs on energy, environment, transportation, industry, information and economic strategies. Market leaders and policymakers worldwide recognize that California is aiming for the future, not the past. [California Also Worries About Extreme Storms After Sandy]
By working together, the next moves by Guangdong and California could have global repercussions on the race to a secure and sustainable future. This isn’t wishful thinking — it is happening today.
Perhaps the governments of China and the United States will not be far behind and give hope that we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change by acting together now.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.