Something big and strange is happening in the United States this week. Three wildly different world leaders with divergent personalities, agendas, and backgrounds will be in the same country at the same time, fighting for the same thing—solutions for climate change. Ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York City, an unprecedented triumvirate will be on US soil: President Xi Jinping, the Communist leader of China’s 1.3 billion people and the world’s biggest carbon polluter; Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and a self-modeled reformer; and US President Barack Obama, the leader of the world’s largest economy (and a man who doesn’t need to be reelected).
In one way or another, they each have made fighting global warming a core part of their leadership at home and abroad. The trio isn’t publicly scheduled to meet each other in America this week—though they will almost bump into one another. But the confluence of these heavy hitters is pumping optimism through green groups that a climate accord may finally be forged at the UN meeting in Paris at the end of the year. Suddenly, they say, political rhetoric is turning into real momentum. Here’s why. This is Xi’s first official state visit to the United States, and climate change is one of the big-ticket items he will likely discuss with Obama at a working dinner (before he heads off to New York for the General Assembly).
While the United States and China have loads of thorny issues to grapple with, including computer hacking and the militarization of the South China Sea, climate change is one topic on which the two countries share a surprising common ground, according to Li Shuo, who closely tracks international climate negotiations for Greenpeace. The countries’ positions are increasingly entwined and hard to unravel, Li said.