In a clear sign that the incoming Biden administration is planning to move the goalposts of international climate negotiations and corner China, US climate envoy John Kerry has raised the stakes.
In a short speech yesterday Kerry claimed that
the Paris agreement on its own will not be enough to stop global warming in its tracks.”
John Kerry, who was confirmed into his new role as climate envoy of the new US administration, used his first speech to stress that the United States is only responsible for 13% of global CO2 emissions and that more was necessary than adhering to the letters of the Paris agreement.
At the global meeting in Glasgow one year from now, all nations must raise ambition together or we will all fail together. Failure is not an option.”
Kerry’s message was unambiguously addressed at China which is coming under growing pressure from both the EU and the US.
The Biden administration’s concern about the possible failure of COP26 to achieve a breakthrough in climate negotiations is understandable. Not only is communist China emerging as the world’s new superpower, but its leadership has already preempted the anticipated moves by Western governments by taking the wind out of their sails.
Responding to the threat of carbon border taxes proposed by EU leaders and Joe Biden, China’s communist leaders recently pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 – to international praise and cheering. President Xi Jinping’s announcement was short on detail, but it significantly enhanced China’s negotiating stance, kicking the ball firmly back into Europe’s and America’s courts.
As Kerry’s speech signals, China’s energy and climate policies are coming under growing pressure, likely to culminate in another showdown between the West and the Rest at the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow next November. There can be no doubt that the new US administration, in close cooperation with the EU, will try, once again, to play the climate card to corner China.
Yet, as usual, this game plan is easier said than done. Chinese officials have already warned that any threat of trade war or carbon border taxes will undermine China’s climate pledges. And whether the Chinese Communist Party is willing to let its energy-hungry economy being scrutinised and determined by Western governments remains highly unlikely.
In its editorial yesterday, the Wall Street Journal warned that China will demand a very high price for any compromise at COP26:
Chinese leaders will be only too happy to make future promises on climate in return for American acquiescence today to their security priorities of Taiwan, the South China Sea and Huawei. Sending Mr. Kerry to negotiate with Chinese President Xi Jinping on climate is a recipe for returning home dressed in a barrel. An obsession with climate will turn a U.S. security strength into a vulnerability.”
In light of China’s insatiable energy demand in coming decades and its growing concern about energy security, it is unlikely that the new Biden administration will be able to succeed where Obama failed, i.e. to cut the Gordion knot of the international climate policy conundrum.