“Cooperation and Compromise” for Sustainable Outcomes: Yale Center Beijing Hosts Panel on International Environmental Efforts in China

Saturday, June 1, 2024

“Climate change is such a complex issue, bundled up with so many dilemmas and trade-offs, that it can feel like a daunting challenge,” Emma Sky, founding Director of Yale’s International Leadership Center, pointed out in the opening remarks. “Can we prosper without doing irreparable damage to our planet?”

Yes, Sky suggested, but only if we set aside our differences and work together for the sake of humanity. That was the main message of the panel event, Cooperating for Climate: The View from China, co-sponsored by the International Leadership Center and Peking University’s Institute of Carbon Neutrality and held at Yale Center Beijing on June 1.

“The transition to net-zero will require technological genius, radically unorthodox policy ideas, and creative solutions for financing the overhaul of entire systems,” Sky said. “And when the U.S. and China cooperate on climate, the global agenda advances.”

Emma Sky, founding Director of Yale’s International Leadership Center


Along with Sky’s opening speech, the event includes a panel discussion featuring three Chinese fellows from the International Leadership Center’s global network: 2004 World Fellow Jun Ma, renowned environmentalist and a director at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs; 2023 World Fellow Binbin Wang, Associate Dean and Research Professor of Institute of Carbon Neutrality at Peking University; and 2024 Climate Fellow Zhouwei Diao MS ’12, General Manager of Maple, the Beijing subsidiary of bp pulse, the electric vehicle (EV) charging arm of BP.

The panel was moderated by International Leadership Center’s Chief Strategy Officer Yuval Ben David ’16.

(from left to right) Jun Ma, 2004 World Fellow, Binbin Wang, 2023 World Fellow, Zhouwei Diao MS ’12, 2024 Climate Fellow, and the panel’s moderator Yuval Ben David ’16, Chief Strategy Officer of International Leadership Center at Yale. 


The panelists discussed the moment they were inspired to pursue environmentalist careers. Jun Ma recalled how the water challenges and its impacts on humans and ecosystem he observed in the 1990s prompted him to author the landmark book China’s Water Crisis. He also recalled how his time at Yale helped shape his approach of tackling environmental pollution, a challenge of enormous magnitude and complexity, through information transparency and public participation.

Binbin Wang recounted her journey from journalism to NGOs and into the UN climate negotiation process, and recalled how a Gansu farmer whose harvest was devastated by a snowfall in March made her realize the human impacts of climate change. Zhouwei Diao traced her motivation to work in the environmental field to the memory of  relatives carelessly wasting food during lunar new year. “We will have new food tomorrow,” she recalled them reassuring her.

The panelists complicated a dominant narrative that China’s green energy push is only the result of top-down directives. Each highlighted ground-up initiatives and multi-stakeholder collaborations between business, local and central government and civil society. Highlighting the importance of data and transparency, Jun Ma, creator of The Blue Map App—an app which enables the public to visualize pollution source data—explained how the historic progress made in China’s environmental monitoring and transparency helped empower public supervision and green the country’s global supply chain, contributing to the vast improvement of China’s air and water quality over the past ten years.  

On the issue of geopolitics and U.S.-China relations, and whether the climate change issue could become hostage to rising tensions elsewhere in the relationship, panelists were optimistic.

Sky in her speech noted the example of the years-long friendship between former climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, whose relationship of trust enabled the U.S.-China understandings that laid the groundwork for the landmark Paris Agreement, and most recently of COP28 in Dubai.

“These are two grandfathers striving to leave a better world for their grandchildren. And they set a positive example for all of us.”

Jun Ma also emphasized the need for people-to-people communications, “When we engage, when we talk to each other, then we realize… we are more similar than different.”

Pointing out how humans need a habitable planet, but not vice versa, Wang expressed the necessity for international efforts: “The only way forward is cooperation… climate is one of the key topics between U.S. and China.”

“From an environmentalist’s perspective [the geopolitical tension is] kind of short term”, said Diao, contrasting the magnitude of climate change to “five to ten years, or even twenty years of economic battle.”

June 1st is celebrated as International Children’s Day in China, and the participants expressed a message of hope to younger generations. “Through cooperation and compromise—rather than competition and conflict—we can achieve better outcomes for all,” Sky said.

Yale Center Beijing, celebrating its 10th anniversary since its founding in 2014, has long hosted panels, programs, and lectures regarding climate, international cooperation, and education. In the past year, Yale Center Beijing has hosted and supported programs ranging from the annual SMART Talks on Climate Change (held in Summer-Fall 2021, 2022, 2023), to visits to local ecological farms near Beijing. Yale Center Beijing continues to convene thought leaders from all sectors for dialogues on pressing issues facing our world.