U.S.-China Relations and Tensions at COP 27

As global temperatures rapidly rise and natural disasters become progressively deadlier, it has become evident that the threat of climate change is imminent. As foreign powers balance their interests and consider what environmental risks their countries can endure, the death of our natural world does not wait. We are in danger and we must recognize that this imminent threat is bigger than ourselves.

China and the United States are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, with China emitting 30% of global emissions — which is approximately triple the gross emissions of the U.S. 

The United States has attempted to make changes towards reducing its climate impact.  For example, electric vehicles and solar panels have hit U.S. markets in a major way. However, due to domestic political instability, the United States’ dedication to reducing carbon emissions is unclear to foreign and domestic actors. Similar concerns exist about China’s commitment to emissions reductions. Despite China ending the financing of coal-fired power plants abroad, the country has plans to construct new coal power plants domestically.

While the two countries have made key strides toward reducing their carbon footprint, there are still significant steps that must be taken for long-term sustainability. Without these steps, the consequences will be deadly. 

Cooperation between the two highest greenhouse gas emitters is necessary if the global community has a shot at combating climate change and mitigating its effects. Yet, at COP27, these superpowers are refusing to collaborate directly with each other.

According to Scientific American, climate change talks between the United States and China are currently suspended, worrying the global community that without cooperation, the conference may fail to make a real impact. During the Paris Climate Accord in 2016, China and the United States showed good faith and worked together to reach an agreement. However with the recent rising tensions regarding Taiwan, the economic competition between the two countries, and the fight for wider global dominance,, it comes to no surprise that the two countries will not be working on bilateral agreements this November.

“Climate change diplomacy between China and the United States cannot be separated from broader political tensions between the two sides, and Washington must take responsibility,” China’s foreign ministry said.

This statement comes 3 months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which the Chinese described as a “serious breach of Chinese sovereignty.” As a result of these actions, China felt that it had no options but to suspend any talks regarding a bilateral agreement. John Kerry, White House climate envoy, is concerned that without China, there is no solution to the issue of climate change.

With cooperation on climate agendas seeming far fetched between the two nations, President Biden plans on asserting the United States as the international leader at COP27. Although many in the international community believe that the United States is a state rampant with climate change denial, with Chinese President Xi not even present at COP27, Biden believes he can use this absence as an advantage in its ability to establish the United States as the key player in combating climate change.

Despite little to no chance of a bilateral agreement between China and the United States coming out of COP27, the international community can only hope that a comprehensive and progressive multilateral agreement comes along that can give us a chance at saving our world. However, with it being significantly more difficult to create multilateral agreements in comparison to bilateral agreements, our ability to fight climate change is at great risk. We must put our differences aside, and fight the greater fight: climate change. 


Lauren Schulsohn

Lauren Schulsohn is a senior double majoring in theater with an emphasis on comedy and international relations. Lauren is from New York City and has always seen the impact foreign affairs can have on domestic issues and even communities in her area. Lauren wants to combine her interests in comedy and international relations to create meaningful social and political commentary. Since starting at USC, on-campus Lauren has joined the fencing club as the social chair and is a member of the Unruh Associates, a group dedicated to increasing civic engagement and bipartisan debate.

  • lschulso@usc.edu