U.S.-China clashes threaten fight against cli­mate change

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD - By So­mini Sen­gupta

They have the largest car­bon foot­prints. Also the largest economies. Now, as diplo­mats meet in Poland for high-stakes cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions, a pitched stand­off be­tween the United States and China threat­ens to slow global ac­tion on cli­mate change pre­cisely at a time when the risks of catas­tro­phe are ac­cel­er­at­ing.

The ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing range from trade to cy­ber­se­cu­rity to mil­i­tary ri­valry in the Pa­cific. And while some of those is­sues have sim­mered for years, co­op­er­a­tion in the fight against cli­mate change had once been a bright spot, so much so that it pro­pelled the cre­ation of the land­mark global agree­ment in Paris in 2015 to curb green­house gas emis­sions.

But then the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced its in­ten­tion to pull out of the Paris pact al­to­gether, re­ject­ing the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus that green­house gas emis­sions are warm­ing the planet.

That rep­re­sented per­haps the most con­se­quen­tial diplo­matic re­ver­sal of the Trump era.

“The big­gest threats to the planet are the lack of U.S. cli­mate lead­er­ship at home and the un­will­ing­ness of the U.S. to en­gage with China,” said Joanna Lewis, a China spe­cial­ist at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity. “The rest of the world looks to the U.S. and China for lead­er­ship, and it has be­come clear that, as the al­liance has waned, global mo­men­tum to ad­dress cli­mate change has slowed.”

Taken to­gether, the emis­sions pro­duced by the United States and China ac­count for more than 40 per­cent of the global to­tal. In both coun­tries, emis­sions went up this year, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis is­sued this week by the Global Car­bon Project in which one sci­en­tist likened the ac­cel­er­a­tion of global emis­sions to “a speed­ing freight train.”

That fact hov­ers over Ka­tow­ice, the Pol­ish city where the United Na­tions is lead­ing two weeks of talks to fig­ure out how to im­ple­ment the Paris agree­ment. Adding to the ur­gency of that meet­ing, the prom­ises made so far un­der the Paris pact are nowhere enough to avert the worst ef­fects of cli­mate change. A U.N. sci­en­tific re­port is­sued this fall warned that, if emis­sions con­tin­ued to rise at the cur­rent rate, the planet would warm so fast that it could lead to wide­spread food short­ages, wild­fires and floods.

It is hard to imag­ine a worse time for the world’s two be­he­moths — the United States, tra­di­tion­ally rep­re­sent­ing the rich world in cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions, and China, rep­re­sent­ing the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries — to be locked in a cy­cle of in­tense dis­trust at the high­est lev­els.

“The U.S.-China cli­mate hon­ey­moon is def­i­nitely over. That much is very clear,” said Li Shuo, a se­nior pol­icy ad­viser for Green­peace Asia, based in Bei­jing. “The U.S. is ask­ing a lot but there’s noth­ing that the U.S. can give. That’s the fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge.”

For China’s part — even though its emis­sions have grown in the last two years, mainly be­cause of con­tin­ued coal use — the coun­try is on track to meet its mod­est, self-im­posed Paris tar­get, which is to reach peak emis­sions by 2030. In fact, it ap­pears on track to do so ahead of sched­ule, ac­cord­ing to in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts. It is also ramp­ing up re­new­able en­ergy sources faster than any coun­try in the world. The emis­sions in­ten­sity of its econ­omy, geared to man­u­fac­ture goods for the rest of the world, is de­clin­ing.

At the same time, though, coal plants have not closed down as fast as some had ex­pected. Much more wor­ry­ing, China is ex­port­ing coal tech­nol­ogy abroad, with its pow­er­ful state-owned com­pa­nies propos­ing to build coal­fired power plants from Kenya to Pak­istan, ef­fec­tively ex­port­ing its car­bon foot­print.

Now, with ad­di­tional eco­nomic head­winds from Wash­ing­ton, China con­fronts a new de­bate: Should it con­tinue to move rapidly from its emis­sions-in­ten­sive in­dus­trial econ­omy, or should it sim­ply slow down?

So far, there is no ev­i­dence that China is re­vers­ing course. Still, the U.S. pos­ture, and the con­cerns over a con­tin­ued slow­down of the Chi­nese econ­omy give bal­last to Chi­nese pro­mot­ers of heavy in­dus­try, some China an­a­lysts say, putting Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping un­der con­sid­er­able pres­sure.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.