WASHINGTON—U.S. climate envoy
said the Biden administration won’t compromise with China on economic issues or human rights in its attempts to negotiate a deal to address climate change.
Mr. Kerry, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, said his team is committed to finding ways to force China to be accountable for pledges it makes in continuing negotiations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
An industrial powerhouse, China is the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gases. Mr. Kerry said satellites and other new technology will allow the U.S. to monitor national emissions around the globe, and noted that European countries have discussed levying a special tax on imported goods based on emissions from their production.
“You need accountability,” Mr. Kerry said in his office at State Department headquarters. “We will have enormous visibility, and that visibility has been very effective at creating accountability.”
Mr. Kerry made his comments before departing from Washington for three days of scheduled meetings with senior Chinese officials in Shanghai on climate change and economic issues.
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Rep. Garret Graves (R., La.)., the top Republican on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, agreed that Mr. Kerry must press China to curb emissions. But he expressed skepticism that Mr. Kerry could ultimately get China to accept efforts to verify that it is fulfilling any promise to lower emissions.
“China’s going to do what’s in China’s interest,” Mr. Graves said. “So do I think they may be able to get something on paper where China agrees? Yeah, I think that’s possible. Do I think there’s any chance in hell that China actually follows through on those obligations? No, not a chance.”
State Department officials said the goal of the trip is to get China to reduce emissions more quickly. Mr. Kerry said he has already been in talks with his Chinese counterpart,
and other Chinese officials.
“We are talking to China about talking,” Mr. Kerry said. “We need, obviously, to have China at the table in order to be able to resolve this challenge.”
Mr. Kerry’s visit to Shanghai will make him the first senior Biden administration official to visit China. It comes on the heels of contentious talks last month between the two countries’ top-ranking diplomats in Alaska.
Mr. Kerry has been on a series of trips ahead of a virtual climate summit that President Biden is hosting with world leaders next week. Mr. Kerry met previously with European allies and last week with leaders in India and the Middle East.
Mr. Biden had campaigned on promises to address climate change, but because emissions are global he is limited in what he can accomplish without international cooperation. He moved to rejoin the Paris climate accord—from which former GOP President
had exited—within hours of his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Mr. Biden has invited 17 countries responsible for about 80% of global emissions to next week’s summit, according to the White House. It is an effort to push those countries toward greater commitments to lowering emissions in international negotiations scheduled for the fall.
The possibility of China and the U.S. cooperating on addressing climate change is a potential bright spot in an increasingly testy relationship. A new U.S. intelligence report on threats facing the U.S. found that China will press Taiwan to reunify with the mainland as part of a larger effort to assert its status as a global power.
Action by the world’s two largest economies—and sources of greenhouse gases—has long been considered central to addressing the effects of climate change, but that cooperation became tricker as the two countries engaged in a trade war, China asserted itself as a global rival and U.S. officials concluded that China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” toward the Uighur ethnic group.
“The climate issue is a free-standing issue. It’s not for trade against the other critical differences that we have with China right now,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that he had effectively negotiated with China on the Paris agreement. “Those have got to be channeled separately. Climate is about the survival of the planet.”
In the biggest climate commitment made by any nation, China pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060. While it will be challenging for Beijing to achieve its goal, China’s plan to become a green superpower will have ripple effects around the world. Illustration: Crystal Tai
announced last year that China would be net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions by 2060, and Beijing has pushed adoption of electric vehicles and other measures to combat heavy pollution in many of its big cities and industrial centers. But China also continued building coal-fired power plants in the years since the Paris deal, and Mr. Kerry said net-zero pledges aren’t effective if they are so long-dated.
Mr. Kerry pointed to work former Vice President
has been doing with investors and climate groups in an organization called Climate Trace. It uses satellite data, artificial intelligence and other technology to track corporate and national emissions, which Mr. Kerry said are among several new types of enforcement measures to explore in negotiations.
And he noted the European Union is pursuing a border-adjustment tax on imports based on their emissions. Mr. Kerry said the U.S. doesn’t currently support that, but Mr. Biden had put it among his campaign pledges, and his U.S. Trade Representative included it recently in a new agenda as policy to start considering.
“There are a whole number of things that could be on the table,” Mr. Kerry said.
Advocates and analysts say trade rules likely require such a tariff to be paired with a domestic carbon tax, or some other type of pricing system. Mr. Kerry has personally supported carbon pricing in the past, but Biden administration leaders have said they aren’t interested in it.
The business community has rallied around it as a way to address climate change in recent months. Without a pricing system, and instead relying on a patchwork of regulations and state and local rules, hurts Mr. Biden’s ability to push other countries to be more ambitious, said Shuting Pomerleau, a trade and climate analyst at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank
“Without a national carbon price, it’s really challenging and difficult for the United States to lead climate negotiations,” Ms. Pomerleau said.
Write to Timothy Puko at email@example.com
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