The situation has suddenly taken a comical turn between the United States and China—the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases—after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s highly controversial trip to Taiwan early this month, which compelled Beijing to suspend the climate talks with Washington. The bureaucracy in both the capitals is now engaged in an intense “Twitter war” on the same matter. China is questioning whether the US can deliver on the historic climate legislation signed by President Biden into law last week.

Factually speaking, a temporary pause in climate discussions at the diplomatic level is not expected to affect the collaboration between the two countries at the academic level. The choppy Sino-US political rivalry has never affected climate engagement in the past between the two countries. Despite intense and volatile friction between Washington and Beijing over economic sanctions and other contentious subjects including Taiwan and the inclusion of China as a “threat and challenge” in official documents of NATO at the behest of the US, there has not been any disruption in climate talks. Indubitably, with the ascension of Joe Biden to the Oval Office in January 2021, the progress on the dialogue on climate change between the two countries saw a renewed surge after being on the back burner for several years.

US Climate envoy, John Kerry, was the first high-ranking official sent by President Biden in April 2021 to visit China and have detailed sessions with Xie Zhenhua, China’s representative on climate change. This was followed by another trip by Kerry in September—paving the way for both countries to sign a joint declaration at the climate summit in Glasgow, UK, in November, to enhance climate action in the 2020s with clearly defined objectives that included setting standards for emissions reduction, deploying carbon capture and storage technologies, and measuring and controlling methane emissions.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in May, both Kerry and Xie met again to explore the possibilities of further collaboration on the subject matter. Despite heightened tensions over the Taiwan Strait and the suspension of talks at the senior level, the academic interactions still appear to be immune to political compulsions. Talks between the world’s two largest carbon emitters are crucial for advancing global action on climate change. Despite existing lulls, on their parts, both countries have exhibited their commitment to addressing the problem within their territories: the US Senate passed a colossal spending bill for clean-energy technologies, and meanwhile, China has also reiterated its commitment to become carbon neutral before 2060. A prolonged cleft between the two will threaten the success of discussions at the next round of global climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. Interaction between the United States and China has been extremely crucial in expediting and facilitating multilateral consensus at previous summits, that’s why apprehension is being expressed by the technical experts about the existing freeze between the two. If the freeze in communications continues until November, then a politically divided climate summit is anticipated in Egypt.

Although the extent of China’s abnegation from climate discussions is still very vague, however, the fragility of the cooperation between the two countries on this high-priority global issue is being tested at a very wrong time—just a few months before the crucial UN Cop27 summit in Egypt. With an unprecedented summer this year that has witnessed heatwaves and wildfires hitting the US and Europe, scorching temperatures in China, Africa and Asia, and catastrophic flooding in almost all the continents, the timing of the sudden aggravation of the already stressed Sino-US relations due to Pelosi’s controversial stopover in Taipei poses a challenge to the on-going, though still insufficient, progress on global warming. It is also a bitter reality that most governments across the globe have not taken sufficient steps and are still falling behind their agreed temperature goals.

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General has rightly warned that the goal of limiting heating is on “life support” with a weakening pulse. Working on this strategic project is for the mutual benefit of both China and the US. There is a recognition in China that it is in its self-interest to act seriously, regardless of political differences with Washington, and adhere to the Paris accords and fulfil all its domestic pledges around methane and coal phasedown. Similarly, the United States has also shown its seriousness by approving legislation for clean energy. The cooperation between the two countries can accelerate climate action this decade, especially in areas such as the cutting of methane emissions. A lot still depends upon the cooling of the political temperature between Washington and Beijing.