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By Robert Bordone, Clinical Professor of Law, and Sara del Nido, Clinical Fellow
Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced a climate accord that demonstrates real promise in making progress to stem global climate change. The climate accord also represents something that is rarely achieved in the struggle to come together around environmental issues: a long-term agreement that meets the interests of both parties; lays the groundwork for future actions by other key players; fundamentally changes the strategic negotiation game; and takes substantial steps toward solving the problem of collective action.
For President Obama, the climate accord agreement was a well-timed foreign policy win in the wake of a resounding defeat in this month’s midterm elections. As he faces the prospect of being a lame duck president, stifled by opposition in Congress to any initiatives he has yet to push, President Obama was able to announce the triumphant outcome of months of complex talks that he and members of his team had been tirelessly, yet quietly, pursuing. Regardless of the challenges ahead, the president’s negotiation victory reinvigorates his presidency and adds to his personal legacy.
For President Xi Jinping, the accord represents a shift away from the foot-dragging, non-committal approach China has been taking on climate change. By negotiating directly with the United States and framing this high-profile deal as an example of the types of emissions cuts other countries should model, President Xi is helping his country make a strong, unambiguous statement to the rest of the world: China is the other global superpower along with the United States. The United States’ alliance with China on this issue by no means negates the competition between the two countries in other areas, but it is an implicit acknowledgment that China, as a stakeholder whose support is necessary for meaningful change to occur, has achieved a status in the global economy and the geopolitical landscape that, in many senses, equals that of the United States.
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