The United States and China plan to restart climate cooperation

Web DeskJuly 16, 2023
The United States and China plan to restart climate cooperation

This week, the United States and China will try to re-energize efforts to prevent global warming in bilateral meetings that observers hope would raise the bar on ambitions ahead of UN-sponsored climate negotiations in late 2023.

The meetings come on the heels of two additional high-level US visits to China this year, as the world’s two greatest greenhouse gas emitters attempt to repair a relationship frayed by trade disputes, military concerns, and eavesdropping allegations.

The US Special Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry, arrived in Beijing on Sunday for discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, from Monday to Wednesday. The discussions will center on themes such as lowering methane emissions, restricting coal use, reducing deforestation, and assisting impoverished countries in dealing with climate change.

According to analysts, the duo, who have maintained a cordial relationship during more than two decades of diplomacy, would also likely discuss China’s objections to US tariffs and other limitations on imports of Chinese solar panel and battery components.

Washington is attempting to shield US manufacturers from low-cost Chinese competitors, particularly those it suspected of employing forced labor, which Beijing disputes.

“I wouldn’t look for breakthroughs in these meetings, but my hope is that they restore normal alignment and diplomacy,” said David Sandalow, director of the Center for Global Energy Policy’s US-China program.

At a House international relations subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Kerry stated, “What we’re trying to achieve now is really to establish some stability with the relationship without conceding anything.”

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration of being too easy on China in climate diplomacy, claiming that China is increasing its greenhouse gas emissions while the US imposes costly clean-up measures.

Kerry is the third US official to visit China this year, following Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in an effort to reestablish a solid bilateral relationship.

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Regardless of other differences, both countries believe they should be able to collaborate on climate change.

Greenpeace’s Li Shuo in Beijing said the upcoming meetings demonstrated that climate change “remains the touchstone for the world’s most important bilateral relationship.”

Rekindling Bonds

US-China talks have a history of bolstering global climate negotiations, including laying the groundwork for the Paris climate accord in 2015, when governments agreed to limit the industrial-era rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, broader tensions have cooled the relationship since, including Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods such as solar panels, a visit to Taiwan last year by former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a US law prohibiting imports of goods from the Xinjiang region, where Washington believes China uses forced labor.

Following Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, a democratically-governed island that China claims as part of its territory, Beijing announced a halt to all climate change dialogue with Washington. Only in November, during the COP27 session in Egypt, did the two countries resume informal climate negotiations.

The enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, whose tax subsidies for domestic clean energy production seek to undercut China’s dominance in the industry and revitalize US manufacturing, has also heightened tensions.

While China has added more renewable energy than the rest of the world combined, it has also made a strong return to coal, which has Washington concerned. According to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), China issued the most new coal plant permits since 2015 in 2022.

“While the US will raise the issue of halting new coal generation development, it appears unlikely that China will provide any assurances on this issue,” said Alden Meyer, Senior Associate at the E3G think tank and long-time observer of climate negotiations.

“And, while China will almost certainly raise the issue of US tariffs on Chinese solar technology, it is unlikely that the US will announce any changes on that front,” he added.

During Yellen’s visit last month, she made a public push to encourage China to participate in UN-managed funds to assist poorer countries in dealing with climate change. China, which regards itself as a developing country, has resisted.

According to Fang Li, China director at the World Resources Institute, the US will press China to expand its national climate pledge under the Paris agreement, but may face opposition from a Chinese side irritated by US trade obstacles.

 

 

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