The US, fresh from reversing 30 years of opposition to a “loss and damage” fund for poorer countries suffering the worst consequences of the climate crisis, has signaled that its long-standing image as a global climate villain should now be maintained on a new culprit: China.
After years of tumult in which the US refused to provide anything resembling compensation for climate damage, followed by Donald Trump’s removal of the US from the Paris climate accord, a profound shift occurred at the Cop27 UN negotiations in Egypt, with Joe Biden’s administration agreeing. to the new claims fund.
The United States also backed language in the new deal, which was finally reached in the early hours of Sunday morning after an often fraught period of negotiations between governments that would call for the phase-out of all undiminished fossil fuels, only to be thwarted by major oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Despite these positions, the United States continued to be the leading target of anger from climate activists, who blame it for obstruction and for failing to account for its role as history’s largest emitter of planet-warming gases. On Friday, the US was given the unwanted title of “colossal fossil” by climate groups for allegedly failing to push through the loss and damage relief at Cop27.
The US delegation in Sharm el-Sheikh chafed at this image, while John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, used his closing remarks to shift the focus to China, now the world’s biggest emitter. Kerry said that “all nations have a stake in the choices China makes in this critical decade. The United States and China should be able to accelerate progress together, not only for our sake, but for future generations—and we all hope , that China will live up to its global responsibility.”
By the end of the negotiations, Kerry and his team were “sick” of taking the blame, according to Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in the Clinton White House, now at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington DC. “Somehow the US became the villain despite aggressive action against emissions, meanwhile Russia and China’s emissions are growing like crazy and yet they are not in the activists’ crosshairs, it’s confusing,” he said.
“I think it’s absurd. If we don’t get China’s emissions under control, the climate will spiral out of control.”
Nate Hultman, who was part of Kerry’s negotiating team for Cop26 last year, said the United States entered the climate negotiations “with its head held high” after Democrats over the summer passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included more than $370 billion (313 billion pounds). in expenses for the promotion of renewable energy and electric cars. “The US is acting as one of the main leaders in getting the climate outcome the world wants, I just reject this caricature of the US being obstructionist,” he said.
The US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, had been in a sort of diplomatic freeze on climate issues since the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August. Cop27 saw the beginning of a thaw in this relationship, with the overlapping G20 summit resulting in Biden resuming dialogue with Xi Jinping.
China’s emissions are now nearly three times those of the United States, and while it has become the preeminent renewable energy superpower, it is increasing its use of coal at a rate that scientists say will push the world catastrophically beyond 1.5C in global warm up. “Our planet is still in the emergency room,” António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said of the lack of progress on reducing emissions in the Cop27 agreement.
“We need to drastically reduce emissions now and that is an issue that this policeman did not address. The world still needs a giant leap in climate ambition.”
China, and many climate activists, point to the United States’ long history of being the leading carbon polluter and its failure to honor past commitments on climate finance to developing countries hit by heat waves, droughts, floods and other impacts. Biden has promised $11 billion. (£9bn) for this effort, although this spending is likely to be blocked by the House of Representatives when it falls under Republican control in January, barring a funding deal before Christmas.
“A quarter of CO2 in our atmosphere is red, white and blue,” said Ed Markey, a Democratic senator who visited the Cop27 summit. “The United States has a moral and planetary responsibility to cooperate, not prohibit, on fair climate finance. We cannot let the countries least responsible for the climate crisis be victim zones and bear this terrible burden alone.”
The summit also saw criticism of a raft of new oil and gas projects in the US, Biden’s call for a short-term jump in oil production to help bring down gasoline prices that have risen after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a new carbon trading scheme announced by Kerry.
The carbon offsets “will only further condemn the African continent and the nations of the Global South to a future of pollution and environmental chaos, all benefiting the fossil fuel industry and big business.” according to to Ozawa Bineshi Albert, co-executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance.
Back home, Biden will face pressure from activists to declare a climate emergency to circumvent Republican intransigence and to rein in the leases still liberally doled out for oil and gas drilling. However, the president’s focus on climate will be “China, China, China,” according to Bledsoe.
“It’s the only game in town, we’ve got to get Beijing to bend its emissions down, whatever it takes, even if it’s a carbon cap,” he said. “No matter what, that’s Biden’s priority. If you’re going to blame two groups for the climate impasse, blame Communist China and the US Republican Party. That’s the truth of it.”