Beijing halted climate cooperation with Washington on Aug. 5, as it announced
a raft of measures in retaliation for the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) to Taiwan
Experts on international climate diplomacy are still parsing the practical implications of the pause in talks, which comes less than 100 days before the next United Nations climate summit in Egypt.
Here are answers to five pressing questions about the move, according to those experts:
1. Is competition better than cooperation?
The short answer: It might be.
The long answer: While global cooperation on climate change is still imperative, a little healthy competition between the two superpowers might actually benefit the planet.
In particular, China is expected to double down on efforts to dominate the supply chain for electric vehicles, solar panels and other green technologies after President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which seeks to displace China as a key supplier of clean tech.
“If someone said to me, ‘You can have lots of interaction between the United States and China but no IRA, or you can have the IRA but less dialogue and collaboration, I would absolutely pick No. 2,” said Todd Stern, who led U.S. climate negotiations under President Barack Obama.
“The more China sees the U.S. charging in the direction of the clean energy transformation, the better that is,” Stern added.
2. Will John Kerry keep meeting with his Chinese counterpart?
The long answer: At the COP26 climate talks in Scotland last year, the U.S. and China issued a joint pledge to take “enhanced climate actions” to meet the more ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris agreement — limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.
Since then, U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry has held several virtual and in-person meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. The most recent in-person meetings occurred in Berlin in May and in Stockholm in June, according to a State Department spokesperson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
Unless China changes its stance, the pair are not expected to meet again before the COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November. However, Kerry’s team had not yet scheduled the next meeting when Beijing suspended the talks, so they did not have to cancel or change any plans, the spokesperson said.
3. Will China still slash its methane emissions?
The short answer: Probably.
The long answer: As part of their joint pledge last year, the United States and China agreed to slash their emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas whose climate-warming power is more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide during the first 20 years in the atmosphere.
However, China has not signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, a commitment by more than 100 nations to cut methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.
Still, Beijing has made clear that its goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 depends on cutting all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, said Joanna Lewis, a professor of energy and environment at Georgetown University.
“Methane is already very much on China’s domestic agenda,” Lewis said.
4. Will the United States and China still launch a climate working group?
The short answer: Probably not.
The long answer: During the Obama administration, the United States and China convened a working group on climate change that was made up of policymakers and technical experts.
Although the working group was disbanded under President Donald Trump, several experts had been lobbying to reincarnate it under Biden, including Thom Woodroofe, a fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former climate diplomat.
The suspension of talks “almost certainly means that the climate working group that was about to be launched will not be launched,” Woodroofe said.
5. What does this mean for COP27?
The short answer: It doesn’t bode well.
The long answer: COP27 is already set to occur against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has heightened geopolitical tensions and increased global energy prices.
The pause in U.S.-China talks could make the summit even more fractious than experts already expected, said Li Shuo, a senior adviser at Greenpeace East Asia based in Beijing.
“Restoring U.S.-China climate exchanges ahead of COP27,” he said, “is a matter of urgency.”
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