Forging a Sustainable Partnership on Climate Cooperation

China and India working together can foster a driving force for global development and ignite them as pioneering leaders against climate change and as promoters for sustainable environment.
by Amal Karadi
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Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park. China and India are currently striving to achieve emission reduction targets ahead of schedule, and cooperation between the two countries can inject strong momentum into mitigating the climate crisis. (Photo courtesy of Hainan National Park Administration)

China and India are two large nations with diverse landscapes, dialects, and cultures. With a third of the world’s population, the two countries are competing with each other in terms of growth and economics. However, both countries face a common spectrum of problems: food security and socio-economic development, just to name a few. And an issue that unites both nations is the climate crisis.

Amidst all conflicts between China and India, climate cooperation is the silver lining binding the two countries and a sector in which they can work together to protect their respective landmasses from the looming climate crisis. Considering the breathtaking landscapes of Guilin and Yangshuo and the mighty Sundarbans as well as both countries’ common ecological asset of the Himalayas, China and India should act quickly to solve their crisis; otherwise, climate change will soon take over these assets. Fortunately, both countries recognize the need to address the climate crisis and are transitioning towards climate-resilient economies.


China and India have made several attempts to reconcile through fighting the climate crisis. In October 2009, the two nations signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to strengthen domestic policies on climate change and implement cooperative projects. The focus of the MoA was to study the impact of the climate crisis on the Himalayas and decrease greenhouse gas production. It also included annual meetings to extensively discuss new policies, projects, and measures to tackle climate change and related destruction.

Both nations actively lauded the MoA then, agreeing that they were making decisions to combat the global climate crisis. At the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009, China aimed to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions intensity by 40 to 45 percent from the 2005 level by 2020, while India set a target to decrease carbon emissions intensity by 20 to 25 percent from the 2005 level by 2020.

The Paris Agreement, also known as the Paris Accord, was signed by 195 nations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris to address global climate change and mitigate its effects. Some goals included limiting the global temperature rise by reducing emission of greenhouse gases and mitigating energy poverty by providing support to developing countries and regions. As per the pact, China has committed to peaking its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. India planned to cut emissions by 33 to 35 percent from the 2005 level and use non-fossil fuel sources to generate 40 percent of its electricity by 2030.

In terms of previous cooperation on climate change, the China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) is a platform that provides an opportunity for high-level discussions and cooperation between the two countries on various economic and strategic matters. While the SED does not focus on climate change, it has been a critical component of the dialogue.

Within the framework of the SED, climate change can be included in the context of energy planning as discussed at the 3rd SED held in Beijing in March 2014, which would aid the combat against climate change. The 6th SED held in Delhi in September 2019 focused on energy, resource conservation, and infrastructure, which would assist in tackling climate change indirectly, while facilitating discussions to improve relevant facilities, which more or less contributed to better resource management.


Although the Copenhagen Summit did not result in much progress, the Paris Agreement did. On the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement in 2020, China and India emerged as leaders, with significant growth. In fact, both countries are even set to exceed the targets decided during the conference.

Reports show that India can reduce its annual carbon dioxide emissions to 600 million tons by 2030. With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s set target for renewable energy sources of 450 gigawatts by 2030, which is an equivalent to five times what the nation already possesses, India is on its way out of fossil fuel addiction. Although not largely, electric scooters are also a common sight now and a clear indicator of change. Researchers suggest that China’s carbon dioxide emissions might have already reached their highest point, potentially more than a decade earlier than the commitment made under the Paris Agreement.

However, China and India face common threats to their environment due to climate change. Food and water security, health hazards, rising temperatures, and environmental degradation are some issues that both nations are dealing with alongside other issues affecting most developing nations. Using this as a common ground, cooperation between China and India can foster a huge force in mitigating the climate crisis. With a combined population of more than 2.8 billion people, both nations have the biggest asset of manpower, along with the natural resources that come with it.

An excellent example of cooperation between China and India is joint research. This includes India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and China’s National Natural Science Foundation collaborating to study ocean atmosphere, land atmosphere, and landocean interactions. The momentum of understanding (MoU) signed in June 2003 by China’s Ministry of Water Resources and India’s Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources planned collaboration on joint research and projects that focus on renewable energy including hydropower, wind power, and other energy sources. It set an example of how the two countries can cooperate on ambitious projects.


China and India have consistently asserted that they should not be obligated to establish globally enforceable goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because wealthier countries bear a much larger historical responsibility for the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is especially true for the United States. American companies have not seen much profit incentive to make progress despite the country’s status as the largest greenhouse gas emitter and the availability of necessary funds.

Both China and India are now large emitters globally, and both nations are at clear risk if climate change does not stop. However, both countries have taken their commitments seriously as evidenced by the results five years after the Paris Agreement was signed. China and India are set to reach the goals early, which also signals their shift to a new, cleaner, and sustainable future.

China and India working together can foster a driving force for global development and ignite them as pioneering leaders against climate change and as promoters for sustainable environment. And the cooperation does not have to be limited to climate change. China’s high-speed transportation system can be modeled sustainably in India, while India’s young population can contribute to China’s development. The two countries must pool their resources to create strategic and sustainable solutions to tackle volatile yet growing economies. The possibilities are endless. A long path remains before the fruits of China-India cooperation will be ripe.

The author is a freelance writer who focuses on migration, society, and culture.