Climate diplomacy in the traditional manner continued
Secondly, the Biden administration insists climate talks can and must be separated out from other issues of concern. Kerry has sought to kill from the outset the notion that China could buy America’s silence on human rights and other issues as the price of cooperation on climate.
This tough line appears to be working as most Republicans and Democrats are holding to it, but civil society groups are challenging the approach. In July, 40 progressive groups wrote a public letter stating ‘nothing less than the future of our planet depends on ending the new cold war between the US and China’. China hawks were furious with the intervention.
China also made clear on the eve of Kerry’s Tianjin talks that any thought of splitting climate from other policy issues is a non-starter. Its foreign minister Wang Yi described joint efforts against global warming as an ‘oasis’ but added the oasis ‘could be turned into a desert very soon’. In case the Americans had not got the message, he summarized that China-US climate cooperation ‘cannot be separated from the wider environment of China-US relations’.
Biden’s tough talk on climate is more challenging than collaborative. His Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice calls for a series of audits of climate action around the world, ensuring those who do not fulfil, or actively undermine, the Paris Agreement pay the price. That is clearly aimed at China. Absent, however, are any particular incentives for China to look benignly on American pressure.
The third weakness is perhaps the most intractable. Even before the Afghanistan debacle, American power – hard and soft – is not what it was. Exhortations to China or to other countries do not have the effect they once did. Even US allies are doing their own thing. The European Union (EU) Green Deal is one of the most radical on offer while, by contrast, Australia – whose strategic importance in countering China in the Indo-Pacific is growing – is one of the world’s most defiant climate laggards.
The US failure so far to keep to its side of the economic bargain on climate has fuelled further misgivings. The Biden administration has struggled to persuade wealthy countries to meet their long-standing commitment to stump up $100 billion in climate finance per year to help poorer states deal with the effects of climate change.
They have been warned adaptation costs, currently estimated at $70 billion per year, could soar four-fold per year by 2030. Developing countries stress this funding is key to their ability and willingness to commit to ambitious climate targets, and therefore to broader ambitions of global net-zero.