This article is the English version of: Carole Mathieu, « Climat et commerce international : le choc des puissances », published in Politique étrangère, Vol. 86, Issue 3, 2021.
Since Joe Biden’s election there has been a sense of optimism around international climate negotiations. The hope of finding a multilateral solution will be revived in a few months’ time at the important COP26 summit in Glasgow, which should mark the end of another cycle of amendments to the 2030 commitments. In record time, the United States has not only rejoined the Paris climate agreement, but it has also presented the rest of the world with a plan to reduce its national emissions by 50–52% from their 2005 levels by 2030. That announcement came on April 22, 2021, during a major virtual summit organized by the White House. It was motivated by two goals: to demonstrate the credibility of the United States’ commitment to climate action, and to increase the diplomatic pressure on other large emitters, chief among them China, to follow the same path.
Nevertheless, the figures are not encouraging. In 2020, the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic caused the biggest drop in CO2 emissions (6%) since the Second World War, but that decline has been reversed since the resumption of trade and activity. Predictions for 2021 suggest a rebound of 5%, reflecting the lack of lasting structural change. To find reasons for hope, we must turn to the evolution of official discourse. At the end of 2019, European countries were more or less the only ones to have promised to achieve climate neutrality by 2050; that goal has now been adopted by two-thirds of the global economy, including the United States and China (by 2060)…
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