Climate: the essential China / United States cooperation at a standstill

There is “no way to solve the world’s most pressing problems without effective dialogue and cooperation” between the United States and China. This is how Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, reacted to China’s decision to suspend climate negotiations with Washington after the controversial trip of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United Nations House of Representatives, to Taiwan. .

The absence of discussions between the two largest emitters of CO2 world is, indeed, worrying. The Covid-19 crisis had given a taste of the risks of politicization of a subject of global concern; that of the climate agenda is perhaps even more dangerous.

The agreement of the two superpowers, not so long ago, made it possible to achieve important advances, in particular by serving as a model for the global cooperation for the Paris Agreements in 2015. Last year, they announced, at COP26, that they would join forces to reduce methane emissions. This international momentum was also behind Xi Jinping’s decision last September to no longer fund coal-fired power projects abroad.

The deterioration of the international situation, particularly since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which China did not want to condemn, foreshadowed a lesser commitment on both sides for the climate cause. It is a new illustration of the failure of multilateralism born at the end of the Second World War, which the renewed tensions between the United States and China around Taiwan will not fix.

Customs. Even before Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei, several measures taken by the American administration against Chinese products led to disruptions in the supply chain in the renewable energy sector. Some Chinese solar panel suppliers have seen their shipments to the United States held up or turned back by US customs officials, following directives banning imports of goods from Xinjiang, where Beijing is suspected of using the forced labor of Uyghurs. Today, everything seems ready to create obstacles to cooperation between the two countries, with cascading effects for the rest of the planet.

However, this does not mean that the Americans and the Chinese sit idly by. After the Senate, the US House of Representatives definitively adopted, on August 12, Joe Biden’s major climate and health investment plan, which should be enacted this week. Worth $430 billion, it will put the country on the right track to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

For its part, China pledged in 2020 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, and in early August released a plan for high-carbon industries, such as steel and cement factories, in order to reach the peak of carbon emissions by 2030. “We remain committed to the transition away from fossil fuels, assures Zhang Jianhua, director of the National Energy Administration. The share of non-fossil fuels in the country’s total energy mix is ​​expected to increase by one point per year on average over the next eight years, from 16.6% in 2021.

Beijing will step up its action in the field of renewable energies and consolidate its position as world leader in terms of investment in new energies. All these efforts are essential for the rest of the planet but also for itself, insofar as it is confronted with an increasing number of extreme meteorological phenomena. The analysis of the Chinese media makes it possible to grasp their extent. While in 2019, 800,000 articles were devoted to them in China, in 2020 the figure almost doubled, and it reached 3.2 million last year.

Actions against global warming have undoubtedly become one of the fundamental criteria for Communist Party officials, whatever their level, in their evaluation for their promotion.

The question has therefore become a priority in recent years in the country which remains the main emitter of greenhouse gases, representing alone almost 30% of the world volume. As Xiao Ma, a professor at Peking University, points out, this is undoubtedly one of the fundamental criteria for Communist Party officials, whatever their level, in their evaluation for promotion.

Citizen pressure. Approaching the important XXe Congress of the CPC, to be held in the fall, the efforts made to meet the objectives set by Beijing are analyzed with attention, especially since there is significant pressure from the population. Several studies show that the Chinese authorities are particularly sensitive to citizen mobilizations in this area, for fear of seeing them turn into a source of political protest. One of them, carried out in July-August 2021 by the Institute for politics and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, shows that 65% of respondents believe that the issue of the environment, in particular pollution, is a fundamental problem in China. Under these conditions, its authors believe that the commitment of Chinese citizens is one of the best guarantees for obtaining that of power.

Driven by the desire to reduce air pollution, strengthen energy security and dominate the industries of the future, China has been the world’s largest investor in renewable energies since 2013. It has, in absolute value, a capacity of renewable energy three times that of any other country. It is a leader in the electric vehicle sector. In 2019, about half of the world’s electric vehicles and 98% of the electric buses circulated there. Overall, China met nine of the 15 quantitative targets of its 2015 climate commitments ahead of schedule. Over the past decade, coal has gone from around 70% to 57% of its energy consumption.

Consequently, since the United States and China seem to be committing, each on their own, to controlling their CO2, it is all the more essential that they cooperate at the international level. The diplomatic impasse in which the two countries have locked themselves could lead to the failure of talks during the next round of global climate negotiations, which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. Meetings between Americans and Chinese have been crucial in facilitating multilateral consensus at previous summits, which justifies Antonio Guterres’ cry of alarm.

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