When U.S. climate envoy John Kerry visited China, his goal had been to focus exclusively on climate change — to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to deploy more renewables. While the relationship is complicated, China acts in its interest, requiring it to improve its people’s air standards and quality of life.
The meeting in July may not have been a detente. But it was necessary to build a bridge to at least acknowledge the differences over Taiwan, trade disputes and the spy balloon traversing the United States. China’s president, Xi Jinping, and President Biden will tackle those subjects in the near term. For now, China and the United States are the globe’s two biggest carbon-dioxide emitters, releasing — respectively — 31 percent and 14 percent of those heat-trapping emissions annually.
“Climate should be free-standing because it is a universal threat to everybody on the planet,” Kerry told his Chinese counterparts. During Kerry’s trip, the northwestern region of Xinjiang suffered temperatures of 126 Fahrenheit.
There were no significant breakthroughs in these climate discussions. But China is committed to the cause, promising to hit peak emissions by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2060. It’s not public relations. It’s about economic development: China has some of the “smartest cities” worldwide, with the world’s most renowned corporations using increasingly advanced technologies while running on clean energy.
Yet, China’s recovering economy and diminished hydropower production have contributed to rising carbon-dioxide emissions this year. They are 4 percent higher than in 2022, four times greater than the international average. Fossil fuels comprise 60 percent of China’s electricity mix. But it also gets 32 percent of its power from renewable energy, and it is planning 450 gigawatts of wind and solar power capacity in the Gobi desert by 2030. That’s twice the wind and solar installed in the United States. Nuclear energy and hydropower make up the rest.
China has 1.2 billion people, 400 million of whom are in the middle class — progress that requires energy use and the resulting emissions. The United States is its partner, exporting $154 billion in 2022 to China. Clearly, Kerry understands the value of open commerce — the foundation for cultural and educational ties. Moreover, such globalism is the key to solving climate change, just as it was for COVID-19.
Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, said carbon-dioxide levels rose internationally by 1 percent in 2021 — primarily a function of a global rebound. But the challenge is ensuring that we meet the goals set by the Paris climate agreement, which limits temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century compared to pre-industrial levels.
A failure to do so leads to a more significant “warming effect,” he said — continued heat waves, more severe hurricanes and prolonged droughts. It’s why China and the United States must talk and hasten their actions.
To that end, China invests in cutting-edge cities for its benefit — to attract the world’s foremost companies to its shores. Nike just launched its China Zero Carbon Smart Logistics Center in Taicang — a wind-powered facility with flags that say “Just Do It.” Meanwhile, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy is building a wind turbine plant in the same city, calling it “the centerpiece of our Asia-Pacific offshore manufacturing activities.”
“Every industry in China is moving in the right direction regarding the country’s decarbonization goals,” said Eric Fang, president of the National Center for Sustainable Development.
The United States and China have maintained warm relations for more than 50 years. But outside events are now straining the friendship. Antagonism is not the answer. Open dialogue is. Indeed, the globe depends on a cooperative connection between the two nations — especially one that addresses climate change.