Global Cooperation

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A Global Climate Fund →

No single country can prevent climate catastrophe on their own. Unless countries band together and agree to follow the same course of action, it is impossible to address a problem as serious as the climate crisis.

The United States, China, Russia and India account for more than half of the world’s total carbon emissions between them. Together with the UK and the EU, these countries are responsible for nearly three-quarters of all the world’s carbon emissions.

These are the countries that must work together to save the planet. And these are also the countries that have nuclear weapons pointing at each other.

Map created with


China is considered the number one carbon polluter in the world, emitting as much as a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions. But China is also the world’s largest exporter, with a large amount of its manufacturing output going to the United States.[1] It’s complicated and potentially unfair to assign emissions numbers to particular countries when everything is embedded in international trade.[2]

Let’s say a smartphone is built in China and sold in the US. Parts of it have been built in a number of different countries and then assembled in China. The raw materials for those smartphone parts have been dug out of the ground in a different set of countries. Meanwhile, a US company has shut its US smartphone factory and opened the one in China, where the labor force was cheaper and more malleable. US investors got together with investors from other countries, and they all invested in the Chinese factory. Now they all profit from smartphone sales in a different set of countries. 

But who is blamed for emitting the carbon? Typically, that would be China, where the phone was assembled – not the miners in Australia and Brazil, not the Mexican company that shipped the phone, not the US consumer driving the whole process.

The US long ago outsourced a lot of its industrial production to China.[3] So much of China’s carbon emissions are actually US carbon emissions, resulting from the production of goods that are sold and used in the United States.

Carbon emissions cannot be pinpointed to specific countries any more than the effects of global warming can be limited to specific countries. We live together on a single, small planet. And our relationships with each other are terribly complex. We’re are all in this together, and we can only get out of it by addressing it together.

Figure 13.2 US imports from top five countries[4]

China and the US are inextricably linked, despite recent US rhetoric that has painted China as an adversary. China has been the largest source of goods imported to the United States for many years. In 2023, following a concerted effort by the Biden administration to reduce imports from China, that country was overtaken by Mexico as the largest exporter to the US. However, Mexico in the meantime has vastly increased its imports from China. So where do many of the products Mexico exports to the US come from? You guessed it. From China.[5]

Chinese companies are also building factories and investing billions in Mexico, so at least some of what the US now imports from Mexico is actually built in Chinese factories run by Chinese companies, even when the label reads “Made in Mexico.”[6]


Most US-Americans are appalled that Russia invaded Ukraine, a sovereign nation and member of the United Nations, in direct violation of the UN Charter. President Putin has threatened the use of nuclear weapons. He has built his argument for war on lies and euphemistically called it merely a “military operation.” The Russian Army has undoubtedly committed atrocities and war crimes. Large numbers of civilians have been killed. Civilian infrastructure has been targeted. Russia unilaterally recognized Donbass provinces as independent states, and then, by popular plebiscite, incorporated them into the Russian Federation.

But let’s not forget that just 20 years ago the US invaded Iraq, a sovereign nation and member of the United Nations, also in direct violation of the UN Charter.[7] And on numerous occasions a US President has threatened the use of nuclear weapons, most recently against North Korea in 2018.[8] President George W. Bush built his argument for war with Iraq on lies, and also euphemistically called it a “military operation.”[9] The US Army committed atrocities and war crimes in Iraq as well as in numerous other wars in which it has been involved.[10] Large numbers of civilians have been killed in all these wars. Civilian infrastructure has been targeted.[11] The US unilaterally recognized Kosovo as an independent country when it was still claimed as part of Serbia.[12] Not as recently, but certainly with greater frequency, the US has used popular plebiscites to incorporate territories into the United States, including Hawaii,[13] and more recently with votes to determine the status of Puerto Rico.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and nothing that the US has done in Iraq or elsewhere justifies or excuses what Russia did and is doing in Ukraine. Nevertheless, it’s a breath-taking double standard. President Putin is, if anything, a copycat. He may well be autocratic and extremely socially conservative, but as we saw in Chapter 11, he is immensely popular in his own country, and he has been elected again and again in what observers have generally considered to be democratic elections.[14]

The United States

Jump to ~ as a Market ~ as an Investor ~ as a Major World Player ~ US in the World

US-Americans tend to be extremely defensive about their claims to “democracy.” Some seem to think the US is the only truly democratic country on earth. And yet, neither George W. Bush nor Donald Trump would have been President if the US were truly democratic. Both secured fewer votes than their opponents and yet “won” through an obscure 18th century ploy designed to give more weight to each US state than to the voters in each of those states.[15]

The US Senate is even less democratic. Half a million people in Wyoming have the same representation as 39 million people in California when it comes to making some of the country’s most important decisions.

Worse, legalized bribery allows candidates for the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives to receive unlimited amounts of money from private individuals and corporations to support their election campaigns through what are known as “super-PACs.”[16]

Nor is the US the beacon of human rights or “freedom” that most US-Americans think it is. The US has a long history of propping up dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world. It has its own shameful record of mass incarceration, use of torture, voter suppression, “fake news,” and human rights violations. The US has interfered in more elections than Russia and China put together.[17] It has invaded far more countries and overthrown far more regimes than either of those countries ever have.[18]

It is now well past time for US-Americans to acknowledge that their country is not perfect and that other countries, however unpalatable their regimes may be, are not “enemies” or “adversaries” or even “competitors.” We all have challenges to overcome and we can only overcome these by working on them together.

But most importantly, we will only survive as a species if we work together to solve the greatest problems facing us right now, and those crucially include the climate crisis and the nuclear nightmare.

The US as a market

The United States is, above all else, a very wealthy country, with an economy that represents as much as a quarter of the world’s GDP. This wealth was built, first of all, on the genocide of Native Americans and the theft of their land and resources when Europeans first arrived in the 17th century. For the next 250 years, it was the importing and use of enslaved African people that built up the wealth of the US. Having escaped the ravages of World War II virtually unscathed, the US emerged as the dominant power after the war. Since then, the US has used its military might to control access to oil and other valuable resources, which has helped it to maintain its wealth.

Now the US is the number one market for goods and services in the world. It buys goods not only from China as described above, but from every other country on the planet. Over half the cars sold in the US, for example, are made in Europe and Japan. The US also imports solar PV panels, batteries, steel needed for windmills, and many other products needed for the green economy.

If we want to improve working conditions for cobalt miners, strengthen environmental protections, or ensure better industrial recycling, we should not pull out of the market and leave it to others. The US should use its purchasing power to demand human rights and environmental standards on the products we buy. Once we give up our role as customers, we lose all influence over the sellers.[19]

In fact, the surest way to climate catastrophe is to leave each country to fend for itself.

Fossil fuel companies, like all other large multinational corporations, know how to move their operations from one country to another in order to reduce labor costs, evade taxes and tariffs, and otherwise get around laws and regulations.

Already we’re seeing many corporations jumping on the carbon trading bandwagon in order to offload their carbon emissions onto some other entity (see chapter 3). If one country cracks down on fossil fuels, the industry will simply move their business—and their profits—to another. There is no way to control the activities of these multinational corporations except through the joint action of all countries combined. That’s why a Fossil Fuel Treaty is so important (see Ch 6).

The US as an investor

As a key contributor and decision-maker in almost all multilateral institutions, including the World Bank, the IMF and many others, the US has significant influence over their investment and granting policies. The United States can encourage investment to be directed toward the goals of a global green transition. There’s a precedent for this: at the end of World War II, the United States invested billions of dollars in re-building Europe through the Marshall Plan. In 2020, Senator Elizabeth Warren called for a “Green Marshall Plan” to complement investments at home with a massive program of investment in green technologies abroad.[20]

The US as a major world player

In addition to its economic power, the US has tremendous influence over allies in Asia and the Pacific, NATO allies in Europe, and other countries like Israel. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US sits on many other international committees. It can take a lead in bringing important issues to the table for international agreement.

The US played an important role in achieving a positive outcome at the Paris Climate Talks in 2015. The Paris agreement is already outdated, however, and will need to be superseded with a stronger commitment from the whole world to limit global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2.0°C and to make concrete and specific steps in that direction by 2030

That will require the US to work with, not against, the other major players in the room, especially China, India, and Russia. If the US demands that other countries live up to their climate commitments and threatens them with punitive measures if they do not, we cannot build the cooperation and solidarity required to deal with this crisis. This is not about finding a way for the US to “lead the way” in new green technologies. It’s not about ensuring that US companies “dominate the market.” It is not about safeguarding “American jobs” or protecting US “national interests” or ensuring US “security” at the expense of other countries.

We must develop new technologies and build the necessary infrastructure in a very short span of time. To succeed, we’ll need humility, openness, and a level of international cooperation.

The climate crisis has brought home the reality of our interdependence perhaps more than any other issue we have ever faced as a species.

US in the world

With 334 million people, the US has the world’s third largest population, although it is much smaller than India and China (each with around 1.4 billion). There are nearly 200 other countries in the UN, including four others with populations of over 200 million, eight others with populations of over 100 million, 14 more with populations of over 50 million, 18 with over 30 million and another 45 with over 10 million.

And there are lots of small countries, too. The chart below looks like a mistake, but it’s what happens when you try to fit all the countries into one pie!

Figure 13.3 Global Population Pie[21]

Note that the US has just over 4% of the world’s total population, which means 96% of the people in the world do not live in the US. Those human beings have just as much right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as any US-American does. And the other 194 member states of the United Nations deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as the US expects from them. The 8 billion of us have to figure out how to share a small planet.

The Cold War

Nuclear weapons were developed in the context of a global battle to the death between two opposing and mutually exclusive ideologies that divided the world into two blocs between the end of World War II in 1945 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. We are all very, very lucky that the Cold War never went “hot” during that period, because that would have been the end of all of us.

We no longer live in a world that is divided so sharply into two incompatible ideologies. Even countries like North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam participate in the global economy. Today, China and Russia are in many respects more “capitalist” than the United States.[22] Neither is trying to push its ideology on everyone else, topple other governments, or take over the world.

In Russia and China, to be sure, there are human rights concerns about the mass media being used as mere mouthpieces for government propaganda, about mass incarceration, about authoritarian leaders, and about bullying and military interference in other countries. But the US is not exempt from similar concerns. 

Building the global consensus needed to solve these problems

US nuclear weapons are currently targeting the very countries we need to work with to solve the climate crisis, and vice versa.

Like the US, the other nuclear-armed countries need the money, skills and other resources currently going into their nuclear weapons programs to be diverted to green technologies so that they can also adequately address the climate crisis in their own countries. The reality is that all countries need to be making the transition “from Warheads to Windmills,” and this will happen much faster, more efficiently, more cheaply and more fairly if those countries all work together on this rather than in competition with, and in isolation from, each other. Indeed, it is not clear that this can happen any other way, since we are all so intricately bound up with each other and connected in myriad ways.

[1] See China (CHN) Exports, Imports, and Trade Partners | The Observatory of Economic Complexity. (2021).

[2] See, for example, Glen P. Peters and Edgar G. Hertwich (2008), CO2 Embodied in International Trade with Implications for Global Climate Policy, in Environmental Science & Technology, 42 (5), 1401-1407

DOI: 10.1021/es072023k and also Chen, ZM., Ohshita, S., Lenzen, M. et al (2018). Consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions accounting with capital stock change highlights dynamics of fast-developing countries. Nat Commun 9, 3581.

[3] For example, Benefits of Outsourcing Manufacturing to China—Baysource Global. (n.d.).

[4] US Census Bureau, Trade in Goods With country pages:; /c2010.html; /c5700.html; /c5880.html; /c4280.html.

[5] Imports By Country. (2022). From

[6]Chinese firms accelerate investment in the country—MEXICONOW. (2021, July 28).

[7] Bush claimed the invasion of Iraq was justified as “pre-emptive self-defense” but this is not a legal justification for war. Officially it was claimed that the invasion was “allowed” under UN Security Council resolution 678, but the UN Security Council itself refused to accept that interpretation. See

[8] President Trump’s threat to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea if it conducted any more nuclear tests was an unambiguous reference to the use of nuclear weapons by the United States. See

[9] The Iraq War was officially called “Operation Iraqi Freedom”

[10] In Iraq, these include torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, torture at Guantanamo Bay, the Haditha massacre of 24 women and children and other incidents.

[11] In the Kosovo War, US forces bombed bridges, factories, power stations, telecommunications facilities and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. See Shue, Henry (2016), Fighting Hurt: Rule and Exception in Torture and War, pp.277-294.

[12] Kosovo is still not recognized as an independent country by Russia and some other states, and it is not a member of the UN. 

[13] See history of Hawaii becoming a US state in 1959 at

[14] Russian Federation, Presidential Election, 18 March 2018: Final Report. (2018, June 6). Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

[15] See 5 Presidents Who Lost the Popular Vote But Won the Election. (2020, November 2). HISTORY.

[16] See Super PACs. (n.d.). OpenSecrets.

[17] See, for example, Polychroniou, C. J. (n.d.). Noam Chomsky On The Long History Of US Meddling In Foreign Elections. Rozenberg Quarterly.

[18] See complete list at How Many Countries has the US Invaded 2023. (n.d.).

[19] See, as an example, The enormous power of the consumer (2020, September 9). TBS-Education.

[20] Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On | Elizabeth Warren.

[21] Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, data files, 2022: Population by single age – both sexes.

[22] See, for instance, Schleifer, Andrei and Treisman, Daniel (2005), “A Normal Country: Russia After Communism,” in Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19:1, pp. 151-174. and Ignatius, Adi (2021), “Americans Don’t Know How Capitalist China Is,” in Harvard Business Review, May/June 2021: