GP Insights

GP Insights # 503, 18 April 2021

US: Climate envoy John Kerry visits China
Mallika Devi

What happened?
On 15 April, US climate envoy John Kerry and other delegates reached Shanghai and Taipei ahead of the first virtual climate summit. President Biden has invited 40 leaders of the world for the summit, which shall be organized on 22-23 April. Kerry is in China to formally invite President Xi Jinping for the summit. President Xi Jinping is yet to confirm his presence at the meeting. The objective of the virtual summit is to convince leaders of the world to raise their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve the goals set in the Paris Climate Agreement ahead of COP26.

What is the background?
First, the US return to climate change. Within hours of being sworn in as the President of America, President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, from which former President Trump had withdrawn in 2017. Climate crises have been re-accorded high priority-second only behind the Covid pandemic. This is further reflected in the appointment of John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for climate change who had played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement while serving as secretary of state under Obama. President Biden also proposed to give USD 1.2 billion to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund.

Second, the importance of China in the climate agreement. Being the largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally, China plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, but that seems impossible by the modest short-term goals. China, in its 14th Five-Year plans, has not significantly raised its NDCs. Besides, China's signature project of the century, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aims to build coal plants in other countries. If China plans to export coal emissions through BRI, it becomes problematic. One of the coal projects in Bangladesh got cancelled because of pollution concerns. Despite holding the status as the world's largest coal consumer and largest renewable-energy producer, China's investment in renewable energy (solar, wind, hydropower) accounted for the majority of its overseas energy investment for the first time in 2020.

Third, the importance of US-China negotiations on climate change. On 7 March, state councillor Wang Yi said: "China would be willing to discuss and deepen cooperation with the US with open mind" on crucial issues like climate change while taking a hard stance on Taiwan. US-China climate negotiations are taking place as the Alaska talks continue. US-China bilateral relations are mired by issues of human rights violation in Xinjiang, imposing curbs on democracy in Hong Kong, and trade deficit. The attempt is to keep climate change as a stand-alone issue and endeavour to forge cooperation on the issue.

What does it mean?
First, talks on climate change open up room for negotiations for both countries to keep communicating their differences and agreements. Climate change can, therefore, act as the foundation for negotiations on other issues. US-China bilateral relations may be at their nadir during the Trump years, but climate change offers an opportunity to build back trust.

Second, Climate change is again back as an agenda on the international stage with President Biden, which had lost steam under the former President. The US is going to push countries across the world to meet their NDCs and adopt greener and cleaner energy resources.

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