Now comes the hard part.
President Biden’s summit on climate change ended Friday with a promise by the United States to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and help other countries do the same. The real test, however, will be Washington’s ability to move the rest of the world toward clean energy fast enough to avert disaster.
The limits of American influence were clear. Australia, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Russia have not made any new pledges to cut oil, gas or coal. Some countries reported that although they had done little to the problem, they were asked for sacrifices and that they needed money to deal with it.
Outside the summit, the Chinese Foreign Minister highlighted the difficulties the Biden government is facing in working with the country most important for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
Minister Wang Yi warned that Chinese cooperation would depend on how the United States reacts to Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang Province.
“Our two countries still have many differences, but President Xi attended the climate summit convened by President Biden. So this is a top-level move by China to work with the United States on climate change, ”Wang said at a Council on Foreign Relations virtual event. “When the United States stops meddling in China’s internal affairs, we can work together more smoothly, which can bring more benefits to both countries and the rest of the world.”
The United States is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in history. China is currently the largest emitter.
The Biden government this week pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030 – an ambitious target slightly below the target set by the European Union and well below the UK’s. China, which argues that industrialization began much later than the West, is still increasing its emissions; it has announced that it will hit peak emissions by 2030 and bring them down to net zero by 2060.
Most of China’s emissions come from burning coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. The country is by far the world’s largest consumer of coal, and is building new coal-fired power plants both domestically and abroad, even as the U.S. and Europe have started decommissioning their coal fleets. Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the summit that China would “strictly restrict” coal projects in the near future and “phase out” coal after 2025.
Republicans in the United States immediately criticized the government for failing to announce new emissions reduction targets.
In an interview on Friday after the White House summit, US climate commissioner John Kerry rejected this criticism. He said he was optimistic that Beijing would increase its climate ambitions ahead of the crucial climate negotiations sponsored by the United Nations in Glasgow in November, and he hoped that China would announce a suspension of its funding for coal projects beyond its borders.
“We took a first step with China,” said Kerry. “Now we are continuing diplomacy. We have to deal with China. “
April 23, 2021, 6:25 p.m. ET
Jennifer Hillman, Senior Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, paid close attention to climate diplomacy this week. She said she saw the Chinese president’s participation in the summit as a promising sign. However, the Chinese Foreign Minister’s remarks the following day were sobering as Mr. Wang set the terms expected in exchange for cooperation with the United States on climate change.
“Today was more of a realistic picture,” said Ms. Hillman. “What I heard from Wang Yi is that there are many prerequisites for this collaboration that will be very difficult.”
As in any diplomacy, the United States has an array of carrots and whips at its disposal to help advance climate action.
Money is at the heart of it. And there, the promises made at the summit did not challenge many people. The United States said it would double climate finance for developing countries to $ 5.7 billion a year. That’s a fraction of what the world needs, Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement. It also lags behind many other rich countries, he stressed, and “does not meet the needs expressed by leaders of vulnerable countries”.
This is all the more important if the US, together with other Western countries, want to persuade emerging economies to meet their growing energy needs from renewable sources, said Jennifer Tollmann, a Berlin-based political advisor at the climate research organization E3G. The United States is able to persuade the World Bank to make climate finance the centerpiece of its lending and to respond to calls from many countries to reduce their debt burdens so they can use their revenues to tackle climate change.
“The statements of various heads of state were very convincing and very clear: ‘We are being left behind. Where is the money? Asked Frau Tollmann.
That is what the United States must do with its allies in the coming months, said Ms. Tollmann. Failure to raise large amounts of capital to fund the effects of climate change is “a risk factor” for the November climate negotiations in Glasgow. This is the deadline for all countries to reach new climate goals. Current goals are nowhere near sufficient to avert the worst effects of warming.
Last but not least, the announcement by the Biden government that it would allocate US $ 1.2 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help poor countries cope with climate change was seen by many as a drop in the ocean.
The United States and India announced a joint effort late Thursday to “mobilize funding and accelerate clean energy adoption” to help India meet its goal of providing huge amounts of renewable energy capacity by 2030. How much money would be put into this package and whether from public or private sources was unclear.
Less than three months after the start of a presidency that has vowed to make climate change a core part of its foreign policy, much remains unsolved. Many major capitals still do not have a United States ambassador, let alone diplomats, who are familiar with the science and economics of climate policy.
The government needs the approval of Congress in order to mobilize money for its domestic climate goals and for the promised development aid overseas. There is no political appetite for a carbon tax, especially among Republicans. And Mr Kerry said he was “concerned” about a marginal carbon tax that the European Union will impose on imports from countries that do not impose duties on goods that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
The government’s next test of climate diplomacy will come when Mr Biden travels to the UK and Belgium in June to attend the next Group of Seven meeting, his first overseas trip as President. This is all the more important if it is expected that China will move forward.
Relations between Washington and Beijing are at their lowest level in decades, and there have been intense exchanges even on climate change. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman last week described the United States’ re-entry into the Paris Agreement as “gay to return to class”.
Mr Kerry said Friday that the comment was “not particularly conducive to a conversation about climate action and that he told his Chinese colleagues just that.
According to analysts, the key to any American strategy is breaking the isolation of the past four years, which makes the next few months extremely important. “If the United States is to have any significant influence over China, it must work with allies,” said Ms. Hillman of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Lisa Friedman contributed to the coverage.