Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry via video link on September 1, 2021. Photo: AFP
The Biden administration has tried to use the 26th
United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in
Glasgow, the UK, to show off US leadership. The US has announced many
new initiatives, including the Clean Energy Demand Initiative and the
Global Methane Pledge. It has also announced the First Movers Coalition,
aiming at allowing global companies in the fields of steel and shipping
to adjust their procurement policies to support clean energy
Washington has tried to take compensatory actions for the damage it caused to global climate governance. During the conference, US President Joe Biden apologized for his predecessor Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate pact. He said that the US will reduce emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
But judging from the recent victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin in Virginia governor's race, it is becoming harder for the Democratic Party to win the 2022 mid-term elections and even the 2024 presidential election. Less than a year after taking office, Biden's disapproval rate has reached 53 percent. The international community is focusing on the credibility of Biden's commitments on climate change, instead of how ambitious they are.
Undoubtedly, the US' domestic divergences on climate change are still huge. It seems that US climate envoy John Kerry is always fighting alone. Most Republican senators are against the Biden administration's policies on climate change, and there are also different opinions in the Democratic Party. For example, Senator Joe Manchin III, the Democrat from West Virginia, opposes the clean electricity program.
As the Biden administration's climate commitments are being questioned, the US is trying to put China in an embarrassing position. Biden said that China has "lost an ability to influence people around the world" in addressing climate change. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan labeled China as a "significant outlier" which "has an obligation to step up to greater ambition."
These statements will only make Beijing become more averse to Washington. With its empty and fragile climate change pledges, the Biden administration has tried to show its "position of strength" toward China. This will only make the Democratic elites more hypocritical. China has been making efforts to combat climate change over the years. It has not only established "dual carbon" goals, but also promised to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to 25 percent by 2030. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.
In the context of rising tensions between China and the US, China has taken a pragmatic and low-profile approach to maintaining cooperation on climate issues. Nonetheless, the Biden administration wants to "decouple" the climate issue from other issues in the China-US relationship, which Beijing disagrees. In his meeting with Kerry in September, Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng made it clear that addressing climate change is an important part of China-US cooperation, which must be based on trust.
But the Biden administration keeps pushing China in its strategy of competing with China. This has eroded the already weak trust between the two countries. In particular, a series of provocations by the US on the Taiwan question, such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's announcement that the US would promote the island of Taiwan's "meaningful participation in the UN system" will cause what Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi called "subversive and overall damage to bilateral ties."
There is also a growing sense in Beijing that the Biden administration is using climate change as a tool of the great power competition. The Washington Post revealed that Kerry's contacts with Beijing have been criticized within the Biden administration. Kerry is seen by some senior US officials as dovish on China. They have put a lot of resistance to the smooth progress of China-US climate cooperation. More recently, the US and Europe agreed on a carbon-based trade arrangement on steel and aluminum.
Making supply chains in the so-called democratic Western countries such as the US less dependent on China is one of the key goals of the Biden administration's China policy. Washington aims to use climate change to advance this goal. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai sought to put climate at the center of trade policy and reshape international economic and trade rules to counter what she called "the race to the bottom" caused by China's low environmental standards. The White House has also linked climate change to supply-chain security, saying it wants to make supply chains more aligned with climate goals.
During Blinken's recent meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Rome, the US identified the climate crisis as one of the priority areas of cooperation. If Washington is really serious about cooperation with Beijing, it needs to come up with a credible medium- to long-term plan that can be approved at home. It needs to engage fully with China on international economic and trade rules and supply chains based on carbon emissions. It is also important that Washington abandons illusions that it can undermine China's core interests, such as the Taiwan question, while simultaneously demanding genuine cooperation. China will continue to meet its emission reduction commitments, but not according to terms or at a pace set by the US.
The author is a senior research fellow at the Charhar Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. firstname.lastname@example.org