The United States and China don’t agree on much these days, but on climate change, the two countries publicly pledge to do more to combat global warming. The problem will work together on it.
President Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry met his counterpart in Shanghai on Thursday to pressure China to cut carbon emissions, at a time when an emboldened Communist Party leadership is increasingly in addition disdainful of American requests.
In Beijing’s view, the United States still has a long way to go after moving away from the Paris climate accord, the 2015 accord to combat the catastrophic effects of warming.
Biden’s pledges to make climate change a top priority now are, for Beijing officials, to simply catch up with China after its leader, Xi Jinping, pledged last year to accelerate the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
“The United States has neither the moral standing nor the real power to give orders to China on climate issues,” said the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper that often echoes official thinking with blunt tones. nationalists, said Wednesday in an article ahead of Mr Kerry’s visit. .
One of the main goals of Mr. Kerry’s trips to China and elsewhere has been to rally support for Mr. Biden’s virtual climate summit of dozens of world leaders next week. Xi has yet to accept the invitation, but he will join a similar conference on Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It was a precise reminder that China no longer sees the United States as so central to its international priorities.
There are also other challenges that could derail even basic coordination between the two countries, starting with the sharp deterioration in relations that began under President Donald J. Trump and shows no signs of improving.
The growing rivalry around technology could spill over into climate policy, where innovations in energy, batteries, vehicles and carbon storage offer solutions to reduce emissions. Already, US lawmakers are calling on the United States to prevent the use of Chinese products in infrastructure projects proposed by Mr. Biden.
“If there is a serious lack of fundamental, strategic and political trust between China and the United States, it will inevitably prevent further cooperation in the specialized area of climate change,” advised Zou Ji, chairman of the Energy Foundation China. Chinese climate negotiators recently wrote in a Chinese foreign policy journal.
Cooperation between the United States, the worst greenhouse gas emitter historically, and China, the world’s worst today, could spur other countries to redouble their efforts. China accounts for 28 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions; the United States, in second place, emits 14 percent of the world total.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other U.S. officials have said they are ready to cooperate with the Chinese government on issues such as the climate, even as they face it on others, including the crackdown on Hong Kong and Xinjiang and the threatening military operations against Taiwan. and in the South China Sea.
It’s not clear that Xi’s government is prepared to compartmentalize in the same way. Officials said the deteriorating relationship had marred the full range of problems between the two countries.
“Sino-US climate cooperation still faces many internal and external constraints and difficulties,” said a study released this week by the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies.
“The US government views China as its greatest strategic competitive rival,” the report adds, warning that the tensions “have exacerbated the difficulties of collective action in global climate governance.”
Even if broader tensions hamper close collaboration, discussions like this week’s could help the two countries at least understand each other’s plans.
“I don’t think cooperation is likely given the current political tensions, but coordination is essential,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor at Tufts University who worked under President Barack Obama as an advisor. principal on climate issues and China. “Both governments need to understand what’s going on in the other country in terms of emissions trajectories, policies and plans.”
John Podesta, who also helped the Obama administration draft its climate strategy, said the Biden administration had an interest in keeping “the channel of communication open.”
“Then it was a kind of anchor of stability,” he said on a conference call with reporters, referring to the climate issue. “Now it must be preserved as a place for normal diplomatic discussions.”
Chinese officials and state media noted Kerry’s arrival but did not play along except to say he would meet with Xie Zhenhua, the chief Chinese negotiator in the talks that led to the deal. from Paris. Mr. Xie, 71, was taken out of semi-retirement this year to resume the role of China’s climate envoy.
He and Mr. Kerry – former Secretary of State and Mr. Biden’s Senate colleague – enjoy high-level support from the leaders who appointed them, making them powerful voices in the political bureaucracies they face at home. them.
Mr. Xie’s long experience and connections can help him navigate China’s complex bureaucratic landscape for energy and climate change issues.
Mr. Xie “likely has the seniority and the connections to play a coordinating role between different ministries and agencies, and therefore his office is a way to give more weight to the issue,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, which closely follows China’s climate policy. “His position has the aura of having been installed from above.”
The Chinese climate official also oversaw a Tsinghua University study last year that he said helped shape Xi’s goals of achieving net carbon neutrality for China by 2060.
Chinese leaders draft “action plan” for Xi’s target of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. This plan could give China the opportunity to accelerate to an earlier peak – perhaps in the middle of the decade – a goal the Chinese and foreign experts have urged. Even if Mr. Xi ultimately adopts a faster schedule, it is usually tricky to be seen making concessions in Washington.
With the United States, Mr. Xie can push China’s own demands for international climate negotiations. While China’s emissions far exceeded those of other countries, it has tried to remain a dominant voice for poorer developing countries which emit much less.
In a video chat at the end of last month with António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Xie said rich countries should keep their pledges of financial support to help poorer countries cope with global warming. climate change and to acquire emission reduction technologies.
In a video meeting with Canadian and European officials last month, Xie hailed the United States’ return to climate change negotiations, according to an official Chinese summary of the meeting. He also appeared to gently suggest that the Biden administration shouldn’t assume that she naturally belonged to the head of the table.
“We welcome the return of the United States to the Paris Agreement,” said Mr. Xie, “and look forward to the United States striving to catch up and exercise leadership.”
Somini sengupta contribution to reports. Claire Fu contributed to the research.