China-US Youth Climate Exchange Launches in Cancun

As the latest round of international climate change negotiations gets underway this week in Cancun, Mexico, you can expect to hear a lot from the mainstream media about China and the United States blaming each other for failure to agree on a climate change treaty. The media (at least the US media) loves to repeat a narrative in which these two economies face off against each other, the US blaming China for now being the world’s largest annual producer of carbon emissions, while Chinese officials condemn the US for being the biggest historical contributor to climate change.

While there’s a certain amount of accuracy in this narrative, it overlooks the fact that many people in both China and the United States are working to find ways to collaboratively reduce both countries’ carbon footprints. One of the best examples is the China-US Youth Climate Exchange, a project spearheaded by youth climate activists from seven Chinese and US-based organizations.

College-age organizers from the US and China are attending the climate change negotiations in Cancun, hoping to come to better understand each others’ cultures and organizing strategies and influence their respective governments to make the most constructive agreements possible. These activists have spent the last one and a half months coordinating their effort from opposite sides of the Pacific, designing a plan for their on-the-ground work in Cancun without ever having met face to face. It’s a remarkable example of how technological advances like the Internet have allowed climate activists world over to make theirs into a truly global movement.

Participants in the Youth Climate Exchange met for the first time on Sunday after arriving in Cancun. Their planned agenda for the duration of the climate change negotiations includes a series of workshops on cross-cultural collaboration and organizing strategies, a shared action designed to focus the attention that urges US and Chinese negotiators to agree on a strong climate treaty, and a bi-lingual blog that tracks the progress of the exchange.

Each activity is focused on enhancing international collaboration between youth organizers, and finding ways for the world’s two biggest carbon emitters to work together constructively on climate change. “In the midst of the greatest challenge facing our generation,” said Jared Schy, part of the US youth delegation and member of the Northwest-based Cascade Climate Network, “we believe it is our responsibility as future leaders to establish this dialogue now.”

If the world is ever going to agree on an effective climate change treaty, both the United States and China must be fully on-board. Yet so far neither country’s leaders have done an exemplary job at collaboration. Many US policymakers want to present themselves as willing to “get tough with China,” while Chinese officials try to avoid any appearance of caving to bullying from the United States. The media feeds the flames of this standoff, relishing in surface-level stories that pit US and Chinese negotiators against each other.

If progress is to be made, both sides must be willing to see past their differences and focus on a common goal of curbing carbon emissions and preserving a habitable planet for civilization. The US and Chinese official delegations might do well to look to the example being set by youth from both their countries, who are determined to make the interaction between their cultures a productive one.

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