China and the United States agree that climate change is a crisis that is exacerbating droughts and storms across the planet. Yet escalating tensions over trade, security and human rights threaten to eclipse efforts between the world’s two main greenhouse gas polluters to keep global temperatures from reaching catastrophic levels. .
U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua are arguing this week over the stages in Tianjin, a northern Chinese city, in search of common ground ahead of international negotiations in Glasgow in November. Leaders from nearly 200 countries will try to agree on intensified efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and money to help poorer nations prepare for the effects of global warming.
Hopes for a breakthrough in Glasgow rest heavily on the ability of China and the United States to create momentum. But on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned Kerry that US antagonism on other fronts could hamper climate cooperation.
“The United States should stop seeing China as a threat and an adversary,” Wang told Mr. Kerry, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Work between the two nations on climate change, he said, “cannot be divorced” from other looming geopolitical tensions.
“The US side hopes that climate cooperation can be an ‘oasis’ in Sino-US relations, but if this ‘oasis’ is surrounded by desert, sooner or later it will also become deserted,” Wang added.
Mr. Kerry told Mr. Wang that the United States remains committed to “cooperate with the world to address the climate crisis, which must be treated with the seriousness and urgency it demands,” said the State Department by email.
The talks, which will continue until Friday, reflect the precarious role that global warming has come to play between the Biden administration and Xi Jinping, China’s strongly nationalist leader. Climate change could prompt the two countries to cooperate on the development of emission reduction technologies, but it is also a point of contention.
Relations between Beijing and Washington have degenerated into resentment over China’s treatment of Muslim minorities, its dismantling of human rights in Hong Kong, and US support for Taiwan.
Still, it was not clear whether Mr. Wang’s combative remarks were shadow boxing to project the muscular image of China or foreshadowed real change in climate talks. When Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman held talks in Tianjin in July, Wang and another Chinese diplomat also publicly berated her over the Biden administration’s Chinese policies.
Both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Xie described global warming as a threat that requires all countries to work together. Signs of climate change this year – fierce flooding in China and Europe, drought and fires in the western United States, high rainfall over an ice cap in Greenland – have underscored the stakes.
Administration officials said Mr Kerry and Mr Xie had held around 18 meetings since the start of the Biden administration, a sign that both are determined to strike a deal. Mr. Kerry, 77, and Mr. Xie, 71, both left government after Mr. Biden took office.
“Kerry and Xie have been able to create an ongoing channel of communication on climate change, which is extremely valuable at the moment,” Joanna I. lewis, an associate professor at Georgetown University who studies Chinese climate policy, said via email. “Yet it is increasingly difficult to completely isolate climate change from the wider tensions.”
Tensions over climate action date back two decades, even before China surpassed the United States in 2006 as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. The latest frictions focus on calls from the Biden administration and other governments for China to speed up the phase-out of coal use in its country and end funding for coal-fired electricity in abroad.
The United States and other countries are also pressing China to agree to an attempt to limit this century’s global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, in the above the pre-industrial average. This target would require countries to make deeper and more immediate reductions than those agreed under the agreement reached in Paris in 2015, which states that countries should strive to keep rising temperatures at ” well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees “.
A United Nations Climate Science Assessment Panel concluded in 2018 that catastrophic sea level rise and meteorological disasters would be inevitable if temperatures exceeded 1.5 degrees, and a new insight science released last month reinforced that warning.
Chinese leader Xi said last year that China’s emissions would peak before 2030, and that by 2060 the country achieve carbon neutrality – not releasing more carbon dioxide into the air than it eliminates thanks to new technologies and forest growth.
Keeping the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees will be nearly impossible, unless China stops its emissions growth over the next few years, if not immediately, and achieves carbon neutrality by 2050. China’s annual carbon dioxide emissions are about the same as China’s. the next three largest emitters combined: the United States, the European Union and India.
China’s latest five-year development plan, released in March, said the government could allow coal consumption – the main source of emissions – to increase for years to come, offsetting the country’s rapid progress in the industry. solar and wind power.
“Kerry and his team are completely focused on this decade, keeping 1.5 alive,” said Todd Stern, who was the US climate envoy under former President Barack Obama. This means that China cannot delay stopping the growth of its emissions, he said, adding, “Unless you take a big step right now, you won’t.
Looking ahead to Glasgow, Kerry also called on China to cut back on building coal-fired power plants overseas, and China may be more open at this stage. Some countries, like Vietnam and Pakistan, which have turned to China for coal-fired power stations have been withdraw from projects.
Mr. Xie fended off pressure from Washington on a new temperature target. The current cap was only agreed after intense negotiations, and Mr Xie said in a recent speech that revisiting the issue would simply distract governments from action.
China has its own doubts about American resolve. The memory of former President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement is still fresh.
President Biden reneged on the deal when he took office and promised that the United States would reduce its emissions by 50 to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030. Yet the United States does not are not quite on track to meet their current target of reducing emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025. Achieving even more ambitious targets will require passing legislation that still faces serious challenges. political obstacles in Congress – a fact that has not escaped the notice of the Chinese leadership.
“When the United States is pushing for 1.5, it’s hard not to be cynical,” said Li Shuo, Chinese analyst for Greenpeace. He said China could announce new measures, but probably not during Mr Kerry’s visit, lest the leaders be seen to bow to the pressure.
“If you understand our political system, the controversial nature of the bilateral relationship, it would be political suicide,” he said.
Liu Yi contributed to the research.