China‘s decision to halt bilateral talks on climate change with the United States has solid a cloud of doubt over whether the world can rally enough ambition to deal with global warming in time to avert its worst impacts.
Tackling climate change has been a key area of cooperation between the 2 superpowers and two biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions.
But China has suspended talks on the problem lower than 100 days before the subsequent landmark international climate summit, COP27, as a part of its escalating retaliation over U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
“No country should withhold progress on existential transnational issues due to bilateral differences,” said John Kerry, the previous U.S. Secretary of State, who’s currently the Biden administration’s top climate diplomat.
“Suspending cooperation doesn’t punish america – it punishes the world, particularly the developing world,” he said.
Over the previous few years, climate change has remained an open avenue for cooperation between america and China at the same time as tensions have escalated on other issues like human rights, forced labor, Hong Kong and Taiwan sovereignty, and trade.
U.S. and Chinese officials had began to ramp up engagement on climate issues within the lead-up to the COP27 United Nations climate summit, which takes place in Egypt in November.
Pelosi’s temporary visit this week to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, infuriated Beijing and triggered Chinese military drills on an unprecedented scale within the seas and air across the island.
Previous bilateral engagement on climate change between the 2 countries helped pave the way in which for the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, and reignited flailing international climate negotiation in Glasgow in 2021.
With the pivotal climate summit on the horizon and countries backsliding on the emission reduction pledges they made in Glasgow, a scarcity of engagement between the superpowers could upend negotiations and sap ambition amongst other countries, analysts said.
“The fear is that the U.S.-China tension can grow to be an excuse for those countries which might be unwilling to step up,” said Bernice Lee, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy at Chatham House.
“It is certainly vital that the international community — especially vulnerable developing countries – proceed ensuring that enormous emitters proceed to deliver what they promised,” she said.
John Kerry, the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, often repeated that the U.S. and China could isolate climate change as an area for joint discussion given its global importance without getting entangled in other complex issues.
“By letting geopolitics now be the tail that wags the climate dog, it represents a shift in Beijing’s approach — from seeing the merits of allowing climate to be a standalone ‘oasis’ in the connection to as a substitute succumbing to those considering purely through a geopolitical prism,” said Thom Woodroofe, a fellow on the Asia Society Policy Institute.
Domestic pressure may force China to proceed to deal with a few of its emissions despite the diplomatic chill. China may forge ahead, for instance, with a plan to slash its methane, analysts said. Much of its methane emissions derive from coal mines in the massive producer nation.
“There’s an enormous effort right away by policymakers in China to provide you with a domestic plan to curb methane emissions,” said Joanna Lewis, professor of energy and environment at Georgetown University. “Even when international engagement on this topic involves a pause, this domestic war on methane shouldn’t be going to return to a halt because it is vitally much a part of China’s strategic plan to regulate emissions.”
Other observers say the pause in negotiations may only be temporary and that the U.S. and China have still joined forces even amid years of fixing relations.
“This has at all times been an up-and-down relationship,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate of consultancy E3G. “I believe the query here is that this a brief term tactical move by Beijing to attempt to get Washington’s attention or is that this a part of larger, long term strategic adjustment by China?”
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by Michelle Nichols on the United Nations; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Alistair Bell)