BEIJING (AP) — China and U.S. had a “very good year” for collaboration on dealing with climate change, but Washington is still pushing Beijing to adopt more ambitious carbon reduction goals, the top U.S. diplomat in China said.
David Meale, American Embassy’s No. Official 2 stated that China’s actions on coal burning will determine if the world can achieve its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), as stipulated by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
China, the world’s largest energy consumer and biggest producer and consumer of coal, emits 27% of the world’s carbon dioxide, the most of any country.
So far, however, China has shown no intention of moving up its timeline to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 — 10 years later than many nations — and for carbon emissions to peak by 2030 or before, said Meale, the embassy’s chargé d’affaires.
The Senate has yet to approve President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Beijing, former senior State Department official Nicholas Burns.
“It has been a very good year for our collaboration,” Meale said, citing the close relationship and regular communication between climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua.
China has indicated that it may tie climate change cooperation to other issues. Meale pointed out that the U.S.-China agreement to work together to reduce emissions in the next decade, reached last month at COP26, Glasgow, was a sign of China’s willingness and readiness to engage.
“This is a very positive outcome and one we plan to build on in our bilateral engagement going forward and … get to a place where things are speeded up, where the numbers look better,” he said.
While Washington and Beijing have many areas of disagreement, “this is one area where we are cooperating and cooperating very productively,” Meale said.
Meale spoke with reporters at a briefing Friday, but his comments were not released until Monday.
While “no country is where we need to be” on carbon reduction, China plays an outsize role because of its heavy dependence on coal, Meale said.
“The 1.5 Celsius goal that the world is working toward is in danger and if we’re going to get where we need to go, we’re going to have to keep raising our ambition, keep taking new steps and nowhere is that going to be more important than in what China does,” he said.
“So there is an extraordinary need for engagement, exchange of expertise, collaborative thinking to ask ourselves, how can China step up its ambition and step up its timeline so that we can rescue the 1.5 goal,” Meale said.
China’s actions will “hopefully give confidence to other countries about where the world is going on the climate change question, will also inspire them raise their own ambition,” he said.
Xi Jinping, China’s leader, said that China would not construct new coal-fired plant overseas in a speech this year to United Nations. According to diplomats from the U.S., China appears to be moving forward with existing contracts for plants. It is unclear if Chinese banks will continue funding such projects in the future.
China continues to build large-scale coal-fired plants in China despite Xi’s pledge. China’s dependence upon coal has been slightly reduced from more than 70% to 57% due to the increasing use of wind and solar power.
China has also ramped up coal production in recent months to ensure a steady supply for winter heating, something Meale called a “challenging short-term development.”
“What it is bringing focus to is one of the fundamental challenges of transitioning away from hydrocarbons (for which) we need effective transition plans and actions,” he said.
Decades of rapid economic growth have dramatically expanded China’s energy needs. Meale noted that the U.S. had already demonstrated that a country can still grow its economy and reduce its emissions.
“We’re all going to have to look at the tradeoffs and the transitions and how to get those right. This is true for the United States. It raises difficult political issues, and it raises difficult questions of science,” he stated.
Xi’s absence from the Glasgow talks drew criticism from President Joe Biden and questions about China’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Xi has not been to China for almost two years.
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