× Startups Business News Education Health Finance Technology Opinion Wealth Rankings Politics Leadership Sport Travels Careers Design Environment Energy Luxury Retail Lifestyle Automotives Photography International Press Release Article Entertainment

September 6, 2021

The deadly effects of climate change -- increasingly extreme, unpredictable weather that cities were never designed to withstand -- have never been so apparent.

In July, the Chinese city of Zhengzhou was devastated by flooding that killed subway passengers and motorists unable to escape from underground tunnels. And just last week, flooding stretched across the United States' East Coast, drowning a family of three in their submerged apartment and sweeping two young adults into a storm drain.

And yet, despite facing the same common threat, China and the United States -- the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters -- remain at odds when it comes to climate action.
 American climate officials had attempted to separate talks from the broader bilateral relationship, hoping to avoid the type of antagonism that has typified recent attempts at US-China dialogue.

Kerry's senior adviser, Jonathan Pershing, told US lawmakers in July that climate talks had so far avoided sensitive topics, such as reports that solar panels in China were built with forced labor by the Uyghur ethnic minority, which China has repeatedly denied.

Climate and human rights abuses are "things we distinguish, and we can separate out," Pershing said at the time. But the message this time from Wang, the foreign minister, was: No, you can't.
"China-US climate change cooperation cannot be separated from the overall environment of China-US relations," Wang told Kerry, according to a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on September 1.

John Kerry is pushing China to do more on climate. Beijing is pushing back. The US hopes climate cooperation can be an "oasis" in their bilateral relations, he added -- "but if the 'oasis' is surrounded by 'deserts,' the 'oasis' will be degraded sooner or later."Wang's comments reflect widespread discontent in Beijing toward what state media has repeatedly framed as American hypocrisy.

Many in Beijing accused the US of failing to make significant progress on climate change, pointing to promised climate legislation during the Obama administration that never materialized, and the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords.

"I think the grievance here, from China, is that the US is not doing enough domestically, and wants to point its finger toward Beijing," said Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China, adding that any "clear-eyed person" could see "there is a big gap between what the US is preaching and what it is doing."

China struggling to kick its coal habit despite Beijing's big climate pledges. This type of resentment is reflected online, with users and news outlets largely ignoring Tianjin talks and giving US efforts the cold shoulder. The few comments made online were negative.
A Weibo user commented, "Please put out the fires in California first. America always talks big but can't even take care of its wildfire. What is there to discuss for climate change?"

Kerry had hoped to use his trip to help convince China to abandon coal as a power source. China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal, far outstripping the US, India, and Australia. Kerry warns nations are running out of time to decarbonize and challenges China to move away from coal
China is also the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, making up 27% of global emissions in 2019. The US, meanwhile, is second at 11% of global emissions. China has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060 and is aiming to peak its emissions before 2030.

The apparent hostility in China to the US' climate agenda is a stark contrast to friendlier exchanges during the Obama administration, said Li -- highlighting how diplomacy, public opinion, and climate cooperation are closely tied.

China's rhetoric about alleged American duplicity, and about climate being inseparable from broader bilateral relations, is not new. Wang, the foreign minister, said similar things earlier this year, including before Kerry's last visit to Shanghai in April.

Though the door for cooperation is still open, the lack of an outcome "is definitely not good news for the planet," Li said. The best-case scenario had been for the two countries to sign an agreement that could help pave the way for a pivotal United Nations climate conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow in November. Now, the conference faces a "much more difficult" process.

And their stalled cooperation has global consequences. If the US takes decisive climate action but China doesn't reciprocate, or vice versa, it won't be enough to stem the most severe effects of climate change -- which we have already seen unfold in both countries, as well as elsewhere around the globe.

Analyst View

Climate change is an environmental and scientific matter. World economic powers need to set aside politics and take a front-row seat in resolving this big threat to our planet. The atmosphere will not forever continue to absorb all the greenhouse emissions and more consequences will dawn on us.