Less than a decade ago, China appeared to be the biggest barrier to tackling global environmental issues like climate change, steadfastly refusing to compromise economic growth for the sake of environmental protection. In 2009, while the Obama administration pledged to “renew our leadership in international climate negotiations,” leading Chinese energy experts labeled United Nations-sponsored climate talks a “conspiracy by developed nations” to undermine its development.
But in the intervening years, Beijing and Washington have undergone a complete role reversal. In recent weeks, China has made clear its leaders are willing to let environmental considerations drive its economic development policy, rather than the other way around. Despite being the world’s largest car market, China has announced its intention to phase out non-electric vehicles, and to impose crushing taxes on polluting companies despite slowing growth.
During the same period, the U.S. has pledged to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change and to repeal the Clean Power Plan, its primary tool to combat global warming, citing a need to boost economic growth. Why has the “green divide” between U.S. and China grown so wide — and, more importantly, who’s on the right side?