June 22, 2021

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The Biden Summit on Climate Change focuses on Asian coal countries

The Biden Summit on Climate Change focuses on Asian coal countries

The Biden administration is shining a spotlight on three powerful Asian countries ahead of this week’s climate summit, nations whose commitment to reducing carbon emissions could prove key to the meeting’s success.

China, Japan and South Korea are the world’s largest financiers of coal-fired power plants around the world, and the administration is looking to secure their deal for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.

Leaders from 40 countries have been invited to the virtual summit at the White House, which is somewhat of an empty path to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland this November. It is also a test for the Biden administration and whether it can claim a leadership role in the battle against climate change after four years of retreat on the issue under President Trump.

Biden is expected to unveil its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by about 50% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, a goal that would be about twice as aggressive as the goal set by former President Obama when he was the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015..

Although many countries rely on coal for power, the Biden administration is focusing on China, Japan and South Korea due to their global influence. Money from these nations has financed the construction of coal-fired power plants in developing countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh, which are eager for a cheap source of electricity and jobs.

For China, which has taken steps to limit the use of coal within its borders, funding the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants in other countries as part of its Belt and Road Initiative has become a way to expand its influence around the world.

The three Asian coal advocates acknowledged that the continued burning of coal to generate electricity is accelerating climate change and said they intend to abandon financing new coal projects overseas. However, no one has declared a ban on supporting the development of coal-fired energy internationally.

Ahead of the climate summit, the Biden administration has lobbied and lobbied for pledges from the three nations to drastically move away from coal.

Last week, President Biden welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihde Suga, the first foreign leader to visit under his administration, to the White House. After their face-to-face meeting, Suga announced on Monday that his government was considering a new target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: a 40% cut from 2013 levels by the end of the decade, substantially more. of the current target of 26%.

Last year, South Korea announced a Green New Deal focused on protecting the planet, but omitted concrete steps. But last week, under pressure from the United States, Seoul allegedly considered an end to financing coal-fired power plant projects, according to the country’s leading business newspaper.

Meanwhile, John F. Kerry, the former Secretary of State Biden named as the first U.S. climate tsar, has traveled extensively in hopes of securing commitments from polluting countries, including China and India, which is the third largest. carbon to the world. -emitter and the second largest coal importer after China.

“The climate crisis – and it is a crisis – is growing. We all need to do more. Every country, “Kerry said on a stop last week in Seoul.” It is imperative to address the issue of reducing dependence on coal everywhere. ”

In a speech Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said, “When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, they either invest in new coal factories, or allow massive deforestation, they will hear from United States. And our partners on how harmful these actions are. “

So far, however, the pressure on China has not translated into an agreement to do more.

Kerry held two days of meetings in Shanghai last week, after which he and his Chinese counterparts agreed to work together to combat climate change, but set no new goals.

Although some diplomats described the deal as a turning point because it secured a commitment from Beijing – albeit a vague one – others viewed it with skepticism.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, even though Kerry was in China, complained in a conference call with European leaders that the fight against global warming “should not become a geopolitical chip, a target for attacking other countries, or an excuse for barriers. commercial “.

Tensions between countries over trade and human rights were already high, particularly after the Biden administration called China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority a genocide.

Chinese officials had been vague as to whether Xi would take part. But a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry announced Wednesday that Xi will attend the virtual summit and deliver an “important” speech, marking the first meeting between Xi and Biden since the new US president took office.

Japan and South Korea are receiving special attention from the Biden administration, in part as an effort to form a bulwark against China, whose political and economic assertiveness in the region and beyond the concerns of neighbors. Blinken made his first trip abroad as the best American diplomat in South Korea and Japan. A meeting in Alaska with Chinese officials followed which was controversial.

Two big questions, however, remain at the heart of governments’ thinking before the conference: How willing are countries to free themselves from dependence on coal, the main source of global warming emissions? And how serious they are about eliminating the practice of financing new coal plants in other countries.

In some respects, the argument for abandoning coal has never been easier to sustain. Renewable energy from solar and wind energy is becoming more accessible. Most economists agree that building new coal-fired power plants makes little financial sense today, compared to 15 years ago.

But with the global economy reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, moving away from coal and other fossil fuels could become more difficult.

“The United States can use the opportunity of the climate summit to” look around “its draft [climate pledge] with key countries ahead of time and try to use it to harness greater ambition, “said Joanna Lewis, Georgetown University professor and Chinese energy policy expert.” But generally it’s a difficult time for countries to propose an increase in climate targets. given the economic tensions many are experiencing as they try to recover from the pandemic. “

One thing remains clear. This is not a problem that the United States can tackle alone.

“Even if the United States goes to net zero emissions tomorrow, we will lose the fight against climate change if we can’t tackle 85% of the emissions from the rest of the world,” Blinken said Monday. “If America can’t lead the world in addressing the climate crisis, we won’t have much of a world left.”