By Paul Homewood
Chinese leaders rebuffed attempts by John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, to persuade them to commit to tougher climate action during three days of talks in Beijing, a response that suggested that tensions between the countries are making it difficult to work together on a crisis that threatens the planet.
Mr. Kerry emerged late Wednesday from the lengthy negotiations in Beijing with no new agreements. In fact, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, insisted in a speech that China would pursue its goals to phase out carbon dioxide pollution at its own pace and in its own way.
Still, Mr. Kerry appeared buoyed that the world’s two biggest polluters had restarted discussions, which had been frozen for a year because of strained relations over Taiwan, trade and other issues. He insisted he was not disappointed in the outcome, noting that just talking marked progress.
“We had very frank conversations but we came here to break new ground,” Mr. Kerry said, adding, “It is clear that we are going to need a little more work.”
It is not hyperbole to say that the extent of global warming depends on decisions made by China and the United States. China is now responsible for almost a third of global emissions, more than all other developed nations combined. To avoid the worst consequences of a warming world, it is critical that the United States, the world’s largest emitter throughout history, work with China to slash carbon pollution, experts say.
Mr. Kerry had hoped to persuade China to start reducing its carbon emissions on a faster timeline and to quickly phase out its heavy use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. While the United States generates 14 percent of global carbon emissions, China is responsible for 31 percent and its pollution is increasing every year. China has said it would hit peak emissions before 2030 and stop adding carbon to the atmosphere by 2060.
Mr. Xi, who did not meet with Mr. Kerry during the envoy’s visit this week, said that China will follow its own timetable regarding emissions reductions. “The pathway and means for reaching this goal, and the tempo and intensity, should be and must be determined by ourselves, and never under the sway of others,” he said in a speech Wednesday according to the official People’s Daily.
The discussions with Chinese leaders around the country’s coal expansion were among the most challenging, Mr. Kerry said. China has built a number of new coal-fired plants in the past two years, locking the country into its continued use. Mr. Kerry tried unsuccessfully to prod China to curtail its use of coal and implement a plan to cut methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that leaks from oil and gas wells and coal mines.
In short, China has told John Kerry to get lost. They intend to carry on as before, putting economic growth above all else. The fact that Kerry did not even get to talk to President Xi is telling in itself, as it is Xi who will make the decisions, not the Chinese officials he did see.
Meanwhile, the dreadfully inadequate US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, shows us all who is really in charge here!