Former Indian diplomat and contributor Mukul Sanwal says the Joint vision for the Paris Conference also has implications for multilateralism.
Late last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama outlined their vision for the Paris Climate Conference. They agreed to jointly support a "global transition to a low carbon economy, renewed focus on adaptation as a key component of the long-term response" to build resilience and reduce vulnerability and the "crucial role of major technological advancement in the transition."
While the U.S. was careful to link the "personal commitment to a successful climate agreement in Paris" to mark "a new era of multilateral climate diplomacy as well as a new pillar in their bilateral relationship," the implications of the Joint Statement are significant not only for climate change but also for multilateralism.
The Joint Statement moves beyond a post-colonial North-South dichotomy. Both countries will provide $3 billion each to help poor countries, with China announcing the establishment of a China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund. This puts pressure on all developed countries to enhance contributions towards the $100 billion to be provided by 2020.
The statement also recognises the establishment of a cap-and-trade system for key industrial sectors in China and a clean power plan to cut emissions from power plants in the United States. Terra Power, an energy company founded by Bill Gates, entered into an agreement with China National Nuclear Corp to work together on next-generation nuclear power plant technology.
The Joint Statement emphasizes the need for bilateral investments to encourage low-carbon technologies and climate resilience, equating mitigation and adaptation (even though these terms are not mentioned), and provides an opening to discuss the role of public finance in the transition.
By endorsing a global goal of "low-carbon transformation" within the 21st century, convergence on an overarching meta-global goal is a significant development, which the Sustainable Development Goals were not able to achieve. The statement also serves to define the "Objective" of the Convention; something which has eluded the multilateral process since 1992.
New co-operative multilateralism
The Statement marks a sharp departure from the outdated developed-developing county framework of multilateral negotiations for securing the interests of the developing countries with respect to global concerns. In an unequal world the weak needed the protection of the United Nations to moderate pressure from the more powerful countries as a precondition for a global agreement. In a more equal world the powerful have lost a lot of the leverage they had over the others.
With the two largest economies and most powerful countries in the world now directly speaking to each other and acting in unison, the outcomes are more significant for the world and for individual countries than has been achieved in tortuous negotiations.
The United States and China will remain the key global actors in developing a multilateral consensus on global issues as long as they successfully represent the concerns of the others. In an inter-connected world, the outcome will be a new model of co-operative multilateralism supplemented by bilateral understandings between national stakeholders that do not require the mediation of the United Nations Secretariat and prolonged negotiations over obscure texts.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Asia Global Institute's editorial policy.