China and California are leading the way on climate cooperation. Others should follow

by Fan Dai at

California governor Gavin Newsom’s delegation is building on existing research and policy initiatives with China, showing that effective climate action can happen below the national level.

For the past few years, US–China relations have been icy. We’ve witnessed spy balloons shot down, meetings cancelled, lines of communication severed and insults hurled from both sides of the Pacific. Yet, in recent weeks, there have been signs of a thaw. During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in California, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for the first time in a year — and there was even talk of coexistence and cooperation.

Geopolitical observers tend to label this sort of moment as a reset. But another leader had started shifting the dial just a few weeks earlier: California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom. He did something that no US state governor has done in more than four years: he went to China. The focus of his visit was an issue of shared concern — the climate crisis.

Over history, the United States has been the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter; China is the current largest. Flooding in Beijing and California earlier this year, and increasingly frequent wildfires in California, both thought to have been exacerbated by climate change, are reminders of what both parties can gain by finding solutions.

Newsom’s mission was made possible by the relationships forged by previous California governors, including the Democrat Jerry Brown, who visited China in 2013 and 2017, and the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went in 2005. Among other initiatives, California shared its experience and expertise to help China to develop air-pollution management practices in Beijing and emissions cap-and-trade pilot programmes. Development began on a ‘green shipping corridor’ between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in California and Shanghai in China.