Global climate change measures not immune to US-China rift

Posted on : 2021-11-02 16:56 KST Modified on : 2021-11-02 17:20 KST
Fraught climate discussions at the G20 summit in Rome — from which Chinese President Xi Jinping was absent — proved that cooperation between the US and China will not be easy
G20 leaders gathered in Rome, Italy, for the G20 summit toss coins into the Trevi Fountain on Sunday. (UPI/Yonhap News)
G20 leaders gathered in Rome, Italy, for the G20 summit toss coins into the Trevi Fountain on Sunday. (UPI/Yonhap News)

In the current era that has been described as a “new Cold War,” global warming has been viewed as a meaningful issue on which international cooperation between the world’s two giants — the US and China — may be possible.

But the two-day G20 summit in Rome on Saturday and Sunday showed how difficult it will be to achieve US-China cooperation and other forms of international solidarity on the issue.

The key question at the summit was whether the world’s major powers would be able to reach a meaningful and unanimous decision on climate change response measures ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, which commenced in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday.

Due to friction between the US and China, however, the only measures to emerge from it were seen as only going halfway.

A joint declaration announced Sunday by the leaders of the G20 nations stated that they “remain committed to the Paris Agreement goal to hold the global average temperature increase well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” As a pledge, it took a step forward with more emphasis on the 1.5-degree Celsius target than the Paris Agreement.

But the concrete steps to achieve this remained incomplete, as the countries failed to bridge differences on when carbon emissions — the chief offenders in global warming, which has been the main manifestation of climate change — are to be reduced to zero, achieving “carbon neutrality.”

Scientists have continued to stress that carbon neutrality must be achieved by 2050, and the US and other advanced economies had been trying to use the summit to nail down the 2050 target date.

But China, Russia and India all called to push back the date, resulting in a compromise that only vaguely refers to achieving the target “around mid-century.”

China and Russia — which account for the largest carbon emissions — both called for postponing the target date to 2060, while India did not offer any timeline at all. The differences among countries responsible for major carbon emissions resulted in a failure to achieve meaningful progress in slowing climate change.

The signs were there before the summit even started. It was the first in-person meeting among the leaders of the world’s major powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading around the world in early 2020 — but the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested it would only be able to achieve so much.

In a press conference Sunday, US President Joe Biden expressed his disappointment with “the fact that Russia and [. . .] China basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change.”

No effective steps were mentioned for dealing with the use of coal, the single largest source of carbon emissions. While the leaders did agree to stop providing funding for overseas coal-fired power plants by the end of the year, the only target they mentioned for ending the use of coal for power within their own borders was a vague “as soon as possible.”

The advanced economies proposed setting a concrete target date in the late 2030s, but India and others objected.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted both the significance and limitations of the summit in terms of climate change policy.

“I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled — but at least they are not buried,” he tweeted.

Washington and Beijing have spoken of climate change as an area where they could potentially cooperate even as their relationship sours.

But reality proved otherwise. Indeed, the outcome of the summit was decisively impacted by the growing distrust between the two sides over various issues — most notably that of Taiwan.

What makes climate issues so difficult to resolve is the share of responsibility for them between advanced and developing economies.

Developing economies have argued that the advanced economies bear more responsibility for past emissions and should largely foot the bill for a response. The advanced economies have countered that China and other countries that are currently responsible for emissions should immediately fulfill their responsibilities.

It’s a difficult issue that can only be resolved through a major compromise rooted in mutual trust between the US and China. But the US’ focus has been on pressuring China, Russia and India — all of which depend heavily on coal and other fossil fuels.

In a Sunday meeting, Xi said, “Environmental protection and economic development need to be coordinated, and we must consider guarantees on livelihoods in conjunction with climate change.” China has been suffering electricity supply troubles due to a sudden imbalance in coal supply and demand.

With the US and China out of sync on climate change response measures, the US has focused on rallying allies to hem China in, with measures including a meeting of the leaders of 14 countries, including South Korea, called the Global Summit on Supply Chain Resilience. The meeting took place separately from the G20 summit.

During the meeting, Biden emphasized that the supply chain should be “sustainable, to ensure our supply chains are free from forced and child labor, supporting the dignity and the voice of workers and are in line with our climate goals.”

While he did not single China out by name, analysts saw his remarks as signaling an intent to rein in Beijing, particularly in the context of the US’ past comments on human rights issues such as forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region.

In a meeting Saturday, Xi Jinping criticized the US for “artificially creating a small group to draw lines based on ideology.”

Still, some achievements came out of the summit. The G20 members made progress in areas including COVID-19 vaccination, digital tax adoption, and development assistance.

The countries reached an agreement on administering COVID-19 vaccines to at least 40% of the world’s population by the end of the year, with that target to be increased to 70% by mid-2022. They also agreed to provide US$100 billion in development assistance to the poorest countries.

They further finalized an agreement on the adoption of a “global minimum corporate tax” with a minimum 15% rate as a measure for major global businesses.

By Jung E-gil, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles