A new book explores the potential for the United States and China to join forces in the fight against climate change through renewed cooperation on clean energy technologies.
Scientists warn that the world is on track to surpass the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold set by the Paris Agreement in the coming years, leading to more frequent and severe climate disasters. In the face of this looming catastrophe, Georgetown Associate Professor Joanna Lewis advocates for the United States and China to cooperate on combating climate change. In her book, “Cooperating for the Climate,” Lewis explores the mechanics of collaboration, focusing on the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) as a model for future cooperation. While the CERC had its challenges, Lewis argues that it still provided value and suggests that a renewed focus on intellectual property protection could unleash new clean energy technologies.
The U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC): A Model for Cooperation
The CERC was established during the early years of the Obama administration as a platform for clean energy research, development, and demonstration. The program aimed to leverage the strengths of both countries to jointly invent new technologies. While the initiative did not fully achieve its goal of jointly commercializing new technologies due to intellectual property concerns, it fostered collaboration among over 1,100 researchers in China and the United States. Lewis highlights the success stories in early-stage research and points to the center’s role in building momentum for major climate breakthroughs, such as the U.S.-China bilateral climate agreement and the Paris Agreement.
The Value of Continued Collaboration
Lewis argues that despite the challenges faced by the CERC, continued collaboration between the United States and China remains crucial. The world still requires cheaper and more efficient clean energy technologies to meet global climate targets. Joint research and innovation, utilizing the scientific resources of both countries, could lead to faster breakthroughs. However, trade barriers and protectionist policies hinder innovation by stifling competition. Lewis warns that a full decoupling scenario would result in inefficiencies, slower progress, and higher costs for the low-carbon transition.
The Risks of Protectionism
The United States has implemented tariffs on Chinese clean energy imports, raising the cost of U.S. solar panels and limiting access to cheaper Chinese electric vehicles. These protectionist measures, combined with incentives for domestic manufacturing, may slow down the clean energy transition in the United States. China, on the other hand, leads the world in manufacturing key green technologies. The rising barriers between the two countries could lead to a slowdown in the adoption of clean energy technologies globally.
A Path Forward
Lewis suggests that reviving a narrower version of the CERC, with a renewed focus on intellectual property protection, could be a viable option. Such a center could focus on jointly conducting early-stage research to leverage the scientific resources of both countries. Additionally, extending the Science and Technology Agreement signed in 1979 and repairing ties with Chinese scholars could facilitate cross-border innovation. The United States should also avoid politicizing Chinese companies that serve U.S. interests, as licensing Chinese technologies can benefit American companies.
As the world faces the urgent challenge of climate change, cooperation between the United States and China on clean energy technologies is more important than ever. While protectionist policies and trade barriers pose obstacles, the potential benefits of collaboration outweigh the risks. By reviving and strengthening initiatives like the CERC, the two largest emitters can leverage each other’s strengths to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies. The path to a sustainable future lies in cooperation and innovation, and the time for action is now.