US owes world climate reparations

US climate czar John Kerry recently visited a blistering Beijing for talks on climate change with his Chinese counterpart. The Chinese side expressed optimism over the talks. But the US side has been much more heavy handed.

At the same time that Kerry was in Beijing, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan hit out at China. He said that the Asian giant “should not be able to hide behind any kind of claim that they’re a developing nation,” and that it should “take significant, substantial action” to reduce emissions. These comments came after Republicans trashed the administration of President Joe Biden for being soft on China over climate.

In addition, Kerry acquiesced to Republicans by saying that the US would not “under any circumstances” pay into a global fund for poorer nations hit the hardest by climate change.

But there are a few key reasons why this is totally morally abject, why it’s also just bad for negotiations with America’s most important diplomatic peer, and why it’s also bad politics.

But there are a few key reasons why this is totally morally abject, why it’s also just bad for negotiations with America’s most important diplomatic peer, and why it’s also bad politics.

On the first point, it’s important to note that the US is by far the world’s leading historic emitter of greenhouse gases and it’s not even particularly close. America has produced around 400 billion tonnes of CO2 since 1751, enough to account for 25% of all anthropogenic emissions globally — and double China’s share. This fact alone, coupled with the fact that China, with a far larger population and industrial base, produces half as much CO2 per capita, demonstrates that the US bears a unique responsibility towards poorer countries.

The US is desperately dragging its feet on climate, too. The Biden administration announced a plan to make the US carbon neutral by 2050 but there are a few snags to consider. First of all, the current Supreme Court has made clear that regulatory agencies have limited powers and that Congress must clearly specify their scope. It means that Congress would need to pass and continually fund a carbon neutrality plan through 2050, and whoever is president would need to sign the bills. This will never happen in a million years.

By contrast, China made a concrete commitment to peak out its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Chinese officials are setting goals and smashing them. Just this year, as the Guardian reports, the country is on pace to break its wind and solar goals five years early. As Forbes noted, in 2021 China installed more offshore wind than every country in the world built in five years.

Yet, despite these achievements, Washington is trying to curtail Beijing’s green sector with sanctions that even the New York Times admitted this week are a totally failed strategy — for the world and America. Kerry did give praise to China for its work on renewables, but the US needs a unified message on cooperating with China on this front and to stop finger wagging.

If these points of hypocrisy were not enough to show why it’s bad for mutual discussion between these two superpowers, it’s important to note that, by ruling out climate reparations, Kerry violated two important things. First off, this is a violation of the COP27 agreement on the “loss and damage” fund, which the US signed. It also violates the US-China joint declaration on enhancing climate action that was signed in Glasgow in 2021.

It should be obvious that signing a document and then not fulfilling the promise written on it is a clear way to make anyone distrust you. But climate talks are supposed to be a sort of off-limits area of cooperation in a relationship otherwise defined by competition.

For the US to extend its competition, and a bitter one at that, to the issue of climate change is both deeply unhelpful and a waste of time, frankly. This is as bad faith as it gets.

Finally, on why this is bad politics. While there is a vocal minority of folks in the US who do not understand climate change and deny its very existence, polls indicate that a substantial majority of Americans want to take action on it. According to an April poll by Pew Research, 69% of Americans are in favor of the US becoming carbon neutral by 2050. And a slight majority (54%) believe climate change is a major threat — though 78% of Democrats feel this way, which is supposed to be the base that this administration represents. (Elections are said to have consequences).

If we assume a win for Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2024, Biden looks to be facing a tough race. Recent polls have him losing but within the margin of error, while state level polls show substantially more risk.

But Biden would stand to benefit from appealing to his base and pitching a big tent, as opposed to the small tent being staked out by Republicans this cycle. To do this, he needs to drive enthusiasm — and driving enthusiasm means doing things.

Biden has so far failed to produce results on student debt relief. He hasn’t codified abortion as a legal right. His infrastructure plan and climate package were both underwhelming. And, to his credit, his “Bidenomics” has managed to damper inflation, but America still remains destitute and extraordinarily unequal. He needs to do something to actually inspire young people — those most impacted by climate change — to actually go and vote.

If you happen to be someone that would rather see him lose, however, fear not. This is the same man who proudly declared that no one’s standard of living would substantially change. He is the perennial friend of every corporate special interest you can think of and every “racist state” known to man. The chances of Sleepy Joe sleepwalking his way into another term are, in my view, actually quite slim. And it is precisely for the exact sort of politicking displayed by John Kerry in Beijing: a lack of serious political will to do anything important.

Source: RT News, 24 July 2023.

Bradley Blankenship is an American journalist. He has a syndicated column at CGTN and is a freelance reporter for international news agencies including Xinhua News Agency.