To tackle China’s coal emissions, the US could use a little help from its friends – Community News
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To tackle China’s coal emissions, the US could use a little help from its friends

Washington and Beijing recently announced that agreement to step up cooperation on climate change. The bilateral agreement was welcomed international.

But when it comes to the climate imperative that China needs to cut its coal emissions, the Biden administration will need, as the Beatles advised, “a little help from [its] friends.” That includes a sympathetic European Union (EU) and an unruly Australia, as well as increased domestic political support to tackle US coal emissions.

Coal dominates climate discussions because it is the largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Most of those emissions take place in China, total 7.8 gigatons in 2019, which is more than all CO2 emissions in the US and the EU combined. Significantly, China’s coal emissions must: fall by more than 75 percent by 2040 to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement. As a result, China’s domestic coal use has repeatedly been a point of emphasis in front of US Climate Envoy John KerryJohn KerryEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — a growing threat storms off Israel’s eastern coast, Jordan, UAE signs pivotal deal to swap solar energy, desalinated water GOP seeks supervisory hearing with Kerry on climate diplomacy MORE.

However, the challenge of taking China off coal is huge, as is 60 percent of its economy is powered by it (compared to alone) 12 percent for the US) To get China to act, the Biden administration needs help.

The EU is a natural partner. It has some ability to influence Beijing on climate, as demonstrated by China’s carbon neutrality announcement that followed closely the 2020 EU/China summit (which took place at a time when the US had largely withdrawn from international climate efforts.) More recently, Washington and the EU have successfully collaborated on major climate initiatives, such as a ambitious program to reduce methane emissions. Just as concerted action by the US and the EU appears to have caused Beijing to cut funding for overseas coal projects, joint US/EU diplomacy on China’s domestic coal use could be helpful.

A potential area for US-EU cooperation is un limit carbon modifications, An instrument that penalizes the importation of carbon-rich substances. For example, it has been suggested that the US and the EU are mobilizing a coalition of countries to use this tool to discourage China’s use of coal in the production of goods for export.

Australia shows a different dynamic for US efforts on Chinese coal. Australia is one of the world’s top coal producing countries, and the government has been very vocal in defending its national interests to keep pushing its coal regardless of climate concerns. like it Minister for Resources and Water named earlier this fall: “The future of this crucial industry will be determined by the Australian government, not by a foreign agency willing to shut it down, costing our economy thousands of jobs and billions of export dollars.”

Australia is also the rare major producing country (along with India) that expected to increase its coal production the next 20 years. As Australian Prime Minister Morrison defiantly stated in response to: efforts at COP 26 focused on coal, his country’s coal sector will continue to operate ‘in the coming decades’.

This attitude is problematic for attempts to target Chinese coal, as Australia is one of the most important richest countries in the world. This reluctance in a wealthy country’s coal is significant because one of the major dynamics embedded in the international climate framework is the degree to which richer, developed countries will “keep moving forward” about emission reductions. Indeed, one of the justifications China has previously given for its modest medium-term emissions targets is that it is still a developing country, not rich developed.

Of course, China is no longer the poorer developing country it once was, and now has a huge economy and international influence that have turned it into what the Biden administration is a “near peer competitor” (or whatever else a “hybrid superpower.”) But given China’s 1.4 billion people, per capita income is barely one-fifth that of Australia. Impressing China with the need to change its approach to coal is more difficult in light of: urging wealthy Australia to increase its own coal production.

The US is ready to criticize Australia because of its limited action on climate change, such as to have a lot of others. But this pressure has so far been insufficient, probably in part because Australia understands that its relationship with the US is multifaceted. By chance, The Importance of Australia as an Ally of the US until against China: security and other key strategic challenges in the Indo-Pacific could make Washington hesitant to pressure Australia over coal to serve “only” climate goals.

But if the US wants to be successful on the climate front, Australia needs to be more candid about coal to put more pressure on China on the same subject. AN sustained and coordinated efforts by the government in relation to Australia on this issue could be fruitful, as could: tthe US was successful in encouraging Japan and South Korea end their support for coal-fired power plants abroad, leading to: China’s own end to foreign coal financing.

This discussion regarding Australia also highlights the importance of the US taking a stronger stance on its own coal use. While current US policy points to a substantial reduction in coal emissions from almost 75 percent to 2040 (in comparison, China’s would only be 15 . valleys percent), there are highly visible disagreements within American political circles that curb tougher climate action on coal. And this lack of domestic political alignment weakens the US’s ability to take strong stances to influence China. It is therefore not surprising that November US/China agreement said little about coal and much more about reducing methane emissions, a less controversial topic in the US. The Biden administration could be more aggressive in pushing Beijing on coal if it had stronger political support to tackle US coal emissions.

China needs to significantly reduce its coal emissions for global climate efforts to succeed. To encourage Beijing that it is in its best interest, international pressure plays a role. For the Biden administration to fuel these pressures, it must mobilize support from allies such as the EU and Australia, even as it works to build political support for domestic action. While the prospects of creating a united front on this issue appear uncertain at the moment, the issue is so important that the board must press ahead.

Philippe Benoit has over 20 years of experience dealing with international energy and climate issues, including management positions at the International Energy Agency and the World Bank. He is currently Managing Director, Energy and Sustainability, at Global Infrastructure Advisory Services 2050.