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Joe Biden outmanoeuvre as China claims climate leadership, joining forces with EU

Financial Times

Beijing officials promote European climate alliance to counter rival Biden event

Xi Jinping, China’s president, touted his climate change commitments in a call with the leaders of France and Germany on Friday, as Beijing vies with Washington to be seen as a leader in global climate negotiations.

Xi told Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, that his pledge last year that China would achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2060 meant the country “would use the shortest time in world history to go from a carbon peak to carbon neutrality”.

Climate change should not become a “geopolitical bargaining chip, a target for attacking other countries or an excuse for trade barriers,” he added, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

A statement from Merkel’s office said the three leaders had discussed climate protection and biodiversity, ahead of a landmark US climate summit on April 22, and Germany and France “welcomed the fact that President Xi has reaffirmed China’s goal of CO2 neutrality by 2060”.

Xi also announced that China would “accept” a 2016 agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a class of chemical coolants used in refrigerators and air conditioners that are also potent greenhouse gases. 

Chinese officials promoted the European discussion as a “climate summit” although continental counterparts suggested it was part of routine diplomatic dialogue.

The trilateral call came just six days ahead of the US climate summit being billed as a showcase for the new climate policies of President Joe Biden. Biden will unveil a new US climate target — expected to be in the region of a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels — and call on other countries to follow suit.

The US has invited more than 40 leaders, including Xi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, but met resistance from some quarters, including in India where a visit from climate tsar John Kerry went poorly earlier this month.

Chinese state media made no mention of the US-led summit on Friday.

Kerry arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday for meetings with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua — the first visit by a senior administration official to China since Biden took office. But state media has given scant attention to the three-day visit.

Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, on Friday described the US as a “truant student returning to school” not a “returning king” in climate negotiations, citing Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

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