Reposted by Forbes
From Tilak Doshi,
A Biden presidency, which appears most likely now, will have a lot on its foreign policy record, from relations with Russia, China and Europe to the Iran issue in the Middle East. However, it is likely that global climate policy, especially regarding China's position in it, will be one of the most controversial challenges in international diplomacy.
If we are slated for a presidency in Biden, we will have the most climate change conscious administrations in US history. The climate change agenda has been elevated to a “whole government” approach spanning key portfolios of national security, foreign policy, and economics and finance. Beginning January 20, 2021, "combating global warming" will become a major concern of the vast US government bureaucracies, from the EPA and the Federal Reserve to the Pentagon and the State Department. A Biden administration would "use every instrument of American foreign policy to get the rest of the world to increase their ambitions with the US" and "take strong measures" to prevent other countries from defrauding their climate change commitments.
The "bargain" of Paris
Undoubtedly, a future Biden presidency would attempt to emulate the promised agreement between Obama and China's President Xi, which forms the basis of the non-binding Paris Agreement. The 2015 agreement was hailed as a "breakthrough" by ex-President Obama with China, that China would also participate in global efforts to reduce emissions. In a move welcomed by European leaders, Biden has vowed that the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day at the White House in January. Attempts are being made to reverse President Trump's formal declaration of resignation from the Paris Agreement issued in November 2019.
In order to steer this vision – an example of an enlightened multilateral approach “leading from behind” in cooperation with Europe – Biden has appointed the aristocratic Europhilean John Kerry to a role at cabinet level as “climate zar”. Kerry oversaw the negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement and signed the agreement on behalf of the United States in 2016 as Secretary of State for ex-President Obama (2013-2017). As "the President's Special Envoy on Climate", Kerry does not need Senate confirmation. He has vowed that under his watch "America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat that it is".
For the proponents of the “climate crisis”, a Biden-Xi collaboration is an opportunity to establish the conditions for meaningful global collaboration in the field of climate policy. For the more stubborn diplomats – not least China's "Wolf Warriors" – who read Machiavelli's "The Prince" more at home than Obama's latest bestseller "A Promised Land", hopes for a "bargain" between the US and China will appear naive.
The celebrated Paris Agreement was just so much smoke and mirrors for China's practitioners of strategic statecraft. For Obama's end of the agreement, his government released punitive measures against the US's own economic interests, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Waters Of The US Act, through executive orders (since the Paris Agreement was usefully not a “treaty” that required impossible Senate approval required). At the end of Xi, China promised to hit its emissions at levels and rates of later decline that were not specified by 2030.
Chinese planners were also unaware that research showed that China's commitment to peaking by 2030 was less ambitious than continuing normal business operations, that the country's emissions would have peaked by then, whatever it did (or not) ). The signing of the agreement did not prevent China from approving 23 gigawatts of new coal-fired power plants in the first half of 2020, more than in the previous two years combined. Note that in those two years, China had more coal-fired power plants operating than the rest of the world combined.
The position of the developing country
Since the earliest UN negotiations, which began in 1994 within the framework of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), China has firmly and consistently played the position of the “Third World”. Developing countries had “common but differentiated responsibilities”. This meant that the industrialized countries (especially the West, but also Japan) made binding commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by certain amounts, while the developing countries not only made no binding political commitments, but also made significant sums of money in terms of " Climate Finance ”“ Contribute to mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
The BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China – the four largest “developing countries” in the world) formed a bloc in 2009 to act together at the climate summit in Copenhagen, including a possible joint exit if their “common minimum position” became not met by the industrialized nations. Indeed, the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in 2005, became an exercise in massive international income distribution, high-ranking UN officials openly admitted.
Of course, the “Third World” position is not necessarily cynical. The rationale for the “developing country” position is based on the reasonable grounds of justice and historical responsibility. With most of the man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory in the Earth's atmosphere, the industrialized West should make serious efforts to reduce their own emissions before asking the developing world to contribute.
When Trump took office in 2016, China was by far the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. At this point it was also long clear that it was difficult to describe China as a “developing country” in any meaningful sense. Last year President Trump boiled over China's status as a "developing country": Among his numerous tweets it was said: "The WTO is BROKEN when the RICHEST countries in the world claim to be developing countries in order to circumvent WTO rules and to receive special treatment receive." No more!!!"
China's rise as an economic and military power, which challenges US dominance in Asia and beyond, is not being denied even by the left wing of the US Democratic Party. China is one of the main players in the global commodity and financial markets. The investments in the much-touted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is often heavily inflated in the business press, have nonetheless developed into a comprehensive network of infrastructure construction and investments in over a hundred countries.
As a source of credit for loss-making governments in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, China has become the main competitor of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Washington-based pillars of post-WWII economic nations. Indeed, David Malpass, whose appointment as head of the World Bank was endorsed by President Trump in 2019, has been an outspoken critic of the World Bank's loans to China (and India). Malpass rightly argued that these countries had become rich enough to open up global capital markets on reasonable terms.
China's red line
If China is no longer a “developing country” with little responsibility in the global “fight against climate change” led by the West, what can a Biden government withdraw from the Chinese government when it comes to decarbonization commitments? China's state planners are likely to value the laws of physics and economics in their assessments of decarbonization more than their counterparts in the West who are pursuing a quixotic green industrial revolution. They will insist on delivering their people an industrial revolution first, like the one the West has enjoyed since its birth over two centuries ago, before signing up for anything that might get in the way.
For the lifelong President Xi, who has no elections to deal with, this is a one-off game for the stability of the regime. It would be the height of folly to imagine President Xi turning to Rudyard Kipling's bravery: "If you can make a bunch of all your profits … and risk it all at once in a moral twist" international collaboration with Climate Crusaders a Biden administration.
The survival of the regime, China's red line, is based on fulfilling the material aspirations of its citizens, the only source of legitimation granted to unelected governments throughout history. China's government fought back – with a mixture of confrontation and unstable interim agreements – President Trump's explosive customs diplomacy against China's intellectual property theft, WTO system gambling, and other US grievances. This will be no less the case when marginal taxes threaten its carbon-intensive exports, when John Kerry and his European allies hold on to climate negotiations.
For the Trump-voting "deplorable" people, John Kerry is "the guy who hangs out in Europe and enjoys it, talks about the climate and flies around in his private jet." But it will be an old President Biden who will face a political headache of monumental proportions if he is not to tackle climate change and China in any uncertain way.