U.S and China Race to the Clean Energy Future PART 1: Discourse on Action

Adapted from a press briefing between American and Chinese youth in Cancun. Click here to see a clip from this briefing aired on China Central TV.

For the past two weeks at the U.N negotiations in Cancun, youth representing the major world powers, from the Chinese Youth Delegation, Sierra Student Coalition, SustainUS, and Cascade Climate Network, have converged in Cancun to form the U.S China Youth Climate Exchange, an innovative, multi-pronged initiative and to demonstrate the sort of cooperation and creativity that our nations’ leaders should be working toward to solve the climate crisis.

One crucial aspect of our efforts is a shared action to send the message to U.S. and Chinese politicians; we need both China and the U.S rising to the occasion, racing toward the clean energy future. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work closely with Yingao, my counterpart on the Chinese youth delegation to plan and drive forward this action. In planning this action, what began as a very tactical alliance turned into a much more meaningful and beneficial experience than I had ever expected.

U.S and Chinese youth met with lead-negotiator Jonathan Pershing to voice our vision for greater cooperation between our two countries.

As a young person from the U.S, I am very concerned with our nation’s role in climate change, and in stalling progress on international cooperation. I am also committed to the notion that in order to make a difference as youth, we have to be blunt and we have to be specific. Specifically, in order to fulfill our mitigation responsibilities and make a real contribution to international progress in time for COP17 in South Africa, we need to demand that President Obama match China’s solar growth rate and double wind capacity in the next year.

After my first few meetings with Yingao and other Chinese youth delegates, I began to realize that American and Chinese youth have very different perspectives on our governments and the best way to inspire political progress. As I encountered these differences, I began to fear that my vision for this action would be compromised and so I asserted my own will as if it was inherently at odds with those of the Chinese youth. These meetings left me feeling somewhat discouraged and fatigued- and as if I was coming up against a wall.

Then things started to shift- the platform on which U.S and Chinese youth were interacting and collaborating was expanding under my feet- the action was just one, important but not self-sufficient, aspect of these efforts. Throughout the first week of the negotiations, I participated in many eye-opening experiences. I attended a workshop led by U.S and Chinese youth on our unique histories and educational backgrounds, our governments and their approach to tackling climate change, and a philosophical evaluation of our own cultural assumptions and patterns of behavior between people from such distinct nations.  Also, during an “open space” session at our “diplomacy dinner,” I conversed with Chinese youth on issues as diverse as the role of religion in China, national security in U.S and China energy policy, and the Kyoto Protocol “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” clause.

"I took a philosophical glimpse at the cultural assumptions and patterns of behavior between U.S and China"

The overarching message and importance of the U.S China shared action was as evident in the planning process as it was in the execution of the action. I felt firsthand what it feels like to negotiate one’s own values, principles, and objectives with those of someone from a very different background. I also began to realize the importance of engaging the other and of acting in the spirit of cooperation, rather than opposition. As I got to know Yingao and other Chinese youth as individuals, we started examining our cultural assumptions and explaining our histories and the reasoning behind our beliefs. Once we began to share these insights, it became clear that we did not inherently disagree- in fact, most times we could understand where the other was coming from. Our dialogue did not feel like a series of traded concessions- it felt like a collaboration.

I say all this because I firmly believe that in order for our countries to reach any agreement and enable international progress to solve the climate crisis, we need to learn, use, and listen to the language of shared understanding. It is my hope that U.S and Chinese negotiators examine their own assumed boundaries to cooperation and begin to find opportunities for mutual collaboration.

Stay tuned for Part 2, Taking Action


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