The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, scheduled for November 30 to December 12, 2023, in the United Arab Emirates, marks a significant juncture in the ongoing global effort to address climate change. Amidst this crucial summit, a pivotal aspect of global environmental policy and strategy emerges—the contrasting approaches of China and the United States. These strategies reflect the distinct environmental and economic priorities of the two leading global powers and signify deeper undercurrents in the geopolitical landscape. This commentary aims to dissect and analyze these approaches, mainly focusing on China’s recently unveiled methane emission action plan, in contrast to the U.S.’s comprehensive environmental-economic strategy. By doing so, it seeks to uncover how these strategies influence the broader great power competition between China and the United States and how they may shape the outcomes and implications of COP28 for the global fight against climate change.

Overview of COP28

COP28, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, is not just an annual gathering but a testament to the global community’s commitment to addressing climate change. Set to take place in the UAE, this summit focuses on four integral themes: Technology and Innovation, Inclusion, Frontline Communities, and Finance. These themes signify a comprehensive approach to tackling both the causes and effects of climate change.

At this year’s conference, the world’s attention will be mainly focused on how nations are progressing towards their climate commitments, especially in the wake of unprecedented global climate crises, such as wildfires, floods, and heatwaves. The summit serves as a critical platform for nations to negotiate, share insights, and build strategies for a more sustainable future.

Dr. Sultan al-Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology for the UAE, presides over the negotiations at COP28, playing a pivotal role in steering the discussions and outcomes. The significance of COP28 also lies in its potential to shape the global climate agenda and influence the actions of key players, notably China and the United States, whose strategies and commitments will be closely scrutinized and likely set the tone for international climate policy in the coming years.

China’s Environmental Strategy

China’s recent unveiling of its action plan to tackle methane emissions represents a critical component of its broader environmental strategy. Despite being the largest emitter of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, China’s plan notably lacks specific targets for reducing these emissions. Instead, it focuses on capturing and reusing methane as fuel, a move that has been met with both interest and criticism.

While addressing methane management, this approach falls short of the international community’s expectations for firm emission reduction commitments. Analysts have pointed out the vagueness and lack of specificity in China’s plan, highlighting its emphasis on descriptive text rather than quantifiable targets. This strategy reflects China’s balancing act between environmental concerns and its overarching economic development goals.

Furthermore, China’s decision not to join the global pact to cut methane output by 30% by 2030 raises questions about its commitment to international climate initiatives. This stance could potentially influence other developing nations, emphasizing economic growth over stringent environmental measures.

The United States’ Environmental Strategy

Contrasting with China’s approach, the United States, under the Biden-Harris administration, has recently released the National Strategy to Develop Statistics for Environmental-Economic Decisions. This historic roadmap is a significant stride towards integrating the value of natural assets, such as land, water, and biodiversity, into the nation’s economic framework.

This strategy marks a paradigm shift in how the U.S. perceives and measures economic growth, moving away from traditional metrics that overlook the role of natural capital. Integrating environmental considerations into financial decision-making reflects a more holistic approach, acknowledging the interconnectedness of ecological health and economic prosperity.

Developed collaboratively by multiple federal departments and agencies, this strategy aims to provide a more comprehensive and accurate picture of economic progress, which factors in the role of natural assets. This approach not only aids in better policy-making but also aligns with global efforts to counteract climate change and nature loss.

In essence, the U.S.’s environmental strategy represents an attempt to redefine economic progress in both sustainable and inclusive terms, showcasing a commitment to leading by example in the global environmental governance arena.

Comparative Analysis

The environmental strategies of China and the United States, while aimed at addressing climate change, reveal stark contrasts in their priorities and approaches. As evidenced by its methane action plan, China’s strategy leans towards pragmatic environmental management that aligns with its economic development goals. This approach, while practical, has drawn criticism for its lack of specific emission reduction targets and its reluctance to commit to international climate agreements like the methane reduction pact.

On the other hand, the U.S. strategy under the Biden-Harris administration represents a more holistic and forward-thinking approach. By incorporating the value of natural assets into its economic statistics, the U.S. is pioneering a model that integrates environmental health into economic growth and planning. This strategy addresses the immediate challenges of climate change and sets a precedent for sustainable economic policies.

These divergent strategies reflect the two nations’ broader geopolitical objectives and domestic priorities. China’s approach focuses on maintaining economic growth while gradually integrating environmental considerations. Meanwhile, the U.S. seems to strive for environmental governance leadership, potentially influencing global norms and practices.

The impact of these approaches on global climate policy and international cooperation is significant. If the U.S. model gains traction, it could lead to a more integrated global economic system that values environmental sustainability. However, if China’s pragmatic approach becomes more prevalent, particularly among developing nations, it might lead to a more fragmented global response to climate change, prioritizing economic considerations.

Great Power Competition

China’s and the United States’ environmental strategies play a crucial role in the broader context of great power competition. This competition is not merely about economic or military might; it increasingly encompasses leadership in addressing global challenges like climate change.

China’s approach, focusing on economic growth with gradual environmental integration, suggests a strategy of securing its position as a global economic leader while cautiously navigating environmental commitments. The U.S., with its comprehensive environmental-economic strategy, appears to be vying for moral and innovative leadership, setting standards in sustainable development and influencing international environmental policies.

This dynamic is particularly evident in international forums like COP28, where the strategies and commitments of these powers are critically observed and can sway global climate action. The competition between these two approaches will likely shape the future of environmental policies and the geopolitical landscape, with implications for alliances, economic partnerships, and global leadership in sustainability and innovation.

In this great power competition, the environmental strategies of China and the U.S. thus become instruments of influence, with each nation seeking to assert its model as the more viable and attractive option for the global community.

Cooperation Opportunities Amidst Great Power Competition

While China’s and the United States’ environmental strategies reflect elements of competition, they also open avenues for cooperation, which is essential for global climate action. As major contributors to global emissions, both nations have a critical role in shaping effective climate solutions.

Opportunities for collaboration could include joint research and development in green technologies, shared initiatives for emission reductions, and cooperation in multilateral forums like COP28. By pooling resources and expertise, China and the U.S. could lead global efforts in addressing climate change, setting a precedent for international collaboration despite underlying competitive dynamics.

If realised, such cooperation would advance the fight against climate change and mitigate tensions in other areas of the China-U.S. relationship, showcasing how common global challenges can transcend geopolitical rivalries.


The COP28 summit in 2023 is more than just another conference on climate change; it is a critical arena where the divergent environmental strategies of China and the United States are displayed and tested. These strategies reveal deep insights into each nation’s priorities, strategies, and influence in the realm of global environmental governance. China’s pragmatic approach, focusing on economic growth with gradual environmental integration, contrasts sharply with the United States’ innovative and holistic strategy of incorporating environmental health into financial planning.

This juxtaposition at COP28 is not just about differing environmental policies but is symbolic of the broader great power competition between these two nations. Their approaches to climate change mirror their geopolitical ambitions and strategies, influencing global norms, alliances, and the future trajectory of international climate policy. The competition, however, does not preclude cooperation. The shared global challenge of climate change presents a unique opportunity for these powers to collaborate, potentially leading to breakthroughs in green technology, emission reduction strategies, and multilateral climate agreements.

The outcomes of COP28, therefore, carry significant weight. They will shape the immediate global response to climate change and have far-reaching implications for the future of international relations, economic development, and environmental sustainability. The actions and commitments made by China and the United States will be closely scrutinized, serving as a barometer for their leadership and influence in the global arena.

In essence, COP28 represents a moment of both challenge and opportunity. It challenges the world’s largest economies to align their environmental strategies with the urgent need for global climate action. Simultaneously, it offers a chance to transcend competition in favour of cooperation, setting a new precedent in how great powers can jointly lead in addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time. The direction China and the United States take and the extent to which they can collaborate will significantly shape the global environmental narrative in the coming years.