We must stop cutting China slack on climate

We must stop cutting China slack on climate
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In December 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced seemingly ambitious climate goals for his nation. Yet, although promising net-zero emissions by 2060, the plan conveniently permits China to peak its emissions “by 2030.” 

Meanwhile, President BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE is reportedly considering a target of cutting U.S. emissions by 50 percent by 2030. With Chinese coal production on the rise, it seems the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) is taking advantage of that generous self-allowance. 

China has historically been given a free pass on climate change action. We’ve allowed the CCP to use its impressive solar panel production capacities as masterful PR to cover for other egregious actions. The most notable instance, perhaps, was its classification as a “developing nation” in the 2015 Paris Agreement — for which the Chinese government lobbied the UN heavily, quite obviously because it allows the nation to set far less ambitious emissions targets. That same year, Chinese GDP was nearly $11 trillion, second only to the United States. That doesn’t sound much like a developing nation struggling to make ends meet.


China’s economic growth has only really exploded in the last few decades, so the case has been made that it is simply playing catchup to the European Union and the United States. The fact remains, however, that climate change is too urgent an issue to go soft on a country that accounts for one-third of global emissions because of a bureaucratic label. Especially when this is a country that is not afraid to muster its increasingly impressive economic might to kowtow other countries into toeing the CCP-line. It’s past time to hold China accountable for its record-breaking emissions and to remind it that acting as a global power implies having the responsibilities of being a global power.

Especially now that Biden has officially rejoined the Paris Agreement, there is a diplomatic imperative to stop cutting China slack on climate. Former President Trump left the agreement largely because it does not hold China, among other “developing” nations, accountable for their rising carbon emissions. Allowing the largest polluter in the world to continue ramping up emissions while the rest of us scramble to reach net-zero is nothing short of weakness on the global stage. All of China’s so-called leadership on solar energy is worthless if the government continues to finance coal plants all over the world. 

The United States risks jeopardizing not only our reputation, but also our strength in energy markets. If China continues to run dirty coal-fired plants while we responsibly turn toward clean energy solutions, at significant economic investment, there’s no doubt that we’ll fall behind in energy exports. Climate change requires global action and various stakeholders are constantly — and indeed rightfully — calling on the United States to reduce our emissions and lead the way for others to do so as well. But such efforts are largely futile if we allow China to continue burning half of globally-used coal each year, while making vague climate promises.

Biden has consistently touted his climate chops since assuming office, but he won’t be remembered as a true climate champion unless he and his administration are willing to stand up to China and secure true commitments. Secretary Anthony Blinken has already had several terse exchanges with Chinese representatives on human rights and the coronavirus pandemic, which is a promising first step in terms of diplomatic show of strength. Applying a similar approach to Xi on climate change will be critical for the Biden administration if the president is serious about reducing global emissions. Going easy on China, from climate change to its human rights abuses and coronavirus cover-up, is not an option. The time to be strong is now. 

Christopher Barnard is the National Policy Director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).