China’s Cold Shoulder Bodes Ill For Climate Fight

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week set off a chain of events that led to China throwing cold water on diplomatic efforts between the world’s two largest economies to cut pollution.

It’s an ominous sign for global climate politics, if not each country’s emissions-cutting efforts.

“Cutting off the Washington-Beijing climate hotline is bad news for the world,” said Shuo Li. A senior climate and energy policy officer for Greenpeace East Asia. “It is another example of a global commons issue falling victim to deteriorating geopolitics.”

Even as relations deteriorated in other areas, the United States and China continued to collaborate on climate change efforts. At last year’s United Nations climate talks, the two countries struck a last-minute agreement to phase out coal use. Also talk about to develop new methane policies for the energy, waste, and agricultural sectors. Recently, American and Chinese researchers have been collaborating on ways to reduce methane emissions from agriculture, oil, and gas production.

Aside from their bilateral relationship, high-level cooperation between the two countries aids in the inclusion of other countries in global agreements. “Peer pressure counts,” Li said.

The United States has contributed the most to global CO2 levels, but its emissions are decreasing while China’s are increasing. China aims to reach “net zero” emissions by 2060, while the United States, under President Joe Biden, aims to reach net zero by 2050.

China’s energy transition spending more than doubles that of the United States, but falls short per capita.

According to BloombergNEF, China’s clean energy spending in 2021 will nearly double that of the United States, despite the fact that the United States will spend more per capita. The United States also continues to have much higher per capita emissions.

According to the International Energy Agency, both countries are steadily increasing their share of renewable power generation, which is now around 28 percent in China and 20 percent in the United States.

Climate change research will continue on both sides of the Pacific, including on methane, which is “very much on China’s domestic climate agenda,” according to Joanna Lewis, a Georgetown University professor of science, technology, and international affairs.

However, international policymakers are hoping that tensions will ease before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt in November, where the issue of who should pay for climate change damages will most likely be a major focus.

“The hope is really that they will revive this before COP 27,” said Melissa Barbanell, director of U.S.-international engagement at the World Resources Institute. “Historically, the U.S. and China coming together again and again has provided the fertile ground for these multinational agreements to come into being. If these two countries act, the biggest emitters, then everyone else feels they should act, too.”