Today the lead climate negotiators from the United States and China are meeting behind closed doors to see how they can create positive momentum at the COP16 United Nations climate talks. Considering that the U.S and China are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world — responsible for almost 50 percent of global emissions — it’s about time!
The meeting today is not happening in isolation; these two countries have been meeting periodically over the past year to discuss environmental issues. However, here in Cancun, the need for joint leadership and commitments by these countries is especially clear. The U.N. process for these negotiations is based on consensus; reaching agreement can be difficult enough when dealing with just two countries, and the challenge expands exponentially with discussions between 196 member parties.
This is where the U.S. and China can make a difference. We’re not only talking about the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, but also those in the forefront of each side of the climate debate — the developed countries and the developing countries. Instead of exacerbating the division between these two groups of countries, the U.S. and China instead can foster a collaborative atmosphere where all the countries are working together.
A possible jumpstart to this unified leadership comes from India, another large emitter. India recently proposed a path forward that could break the logjam between China and the U.S. on the issue of how countries report the actions they take as part of any international climate agreement. In conference jargon, that’s known as MRVs — or Measuring Reporting and Verification. India, another key player in these negotiations, realizes that these two countries must begin to agree on critical issues, and they have offered a possible solution to one of the major issues of contention.
Whether or not India’s proposal is ideal is not as important as having a positive step on a critical issue to build upon. Now it’s up to the U.S. and China to go beyond internal politics and show both compromise and leadership, a unified partnership that is on par with the scale of their global influence.
Manuel Oliva is director of U.S. policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government. Read other posts about CI’s engagement at COP16.