Biden could visit UN climate talks as concerns loom over China

President Biden is entering a pivotal season of global climate talks, spurred by the legislative victory of the Inflation Reduction Act, betting that it can undermine China’s arguments that the United States is a less reliable negotiating partner because its policies depend on who is in power in Washington.

The new push comes as a freeze on climate talks between China and the United States, tensions over who should pay for the damages caused by global warming and an energy crisis and war in Europe they weighed on the prospects of the rally in the Egyptian tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. On Friday, Europe’s top climate negotiator said his fears were easing that a UN climate conference in Egypt in November could be a “train wreck”. given the passing of the new climate law and recent moves by other global negotiators.

The plan for talks between the United States and China, which was loudly unveiled at the Glasgow climate summit last year, aimed to address a wide range of global warming emissions. But negotiations between Washington and Beijing – the world’s most important climate dialogue – have been frozen since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) infuriated Chinese officials by visiting Taiwan last month.

“There is no zero, there is no communication. They suspended it. I think it is a tragic loss. It’s just a sad turn of events, “Biden’s special climate envoy former Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in an interview. together”.

Kerry and her Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, surprised climate negotiators in Glasgow last year when they pledged to work together, a commitment both nations saw as a turning point. Kerry said the talks were making progress before Beijing suspended them to protest Pelosi’s visit.

The administration is also considering replacing the World Bank leader, a Trump administration appointee, in an effort to get the international financial institution to focus more on climate change. Biden’s senior aides have been discussing pushing for the ouster of David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, for more than a year.

Those conversations were reignited this week after Malpass sparked an international uproar by refusing to say in a New York Times-sponsored panel that climate change was caused by human behavior, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke in. condition of anonymity to talk about internal discussions at the White House. Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, is widely considered a likely candidate for the office, said these people, as well as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who heads the World Trade Organization.

Axios first reported Friday that the White House is considering ousting Malpass.

US climate law is a big step forward, global partners say, but still calling for bolder action

White House officials are also considering whether Biden can attend the UN climate conference, known as COP27, to signal his commitment to global efforts to reduce emissions. The two-week talks begin on Nov.19, 6, two days before the US midterm elections, and Biden will attend a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia on Nov.19. 15 and 16.

I know it’s very high on the White House agenda in terms of hopes, ”Kerry said. “I know he wants to go and I think it would be helpful if he did. It is always helpful to have the president of the United States help you do your job. “

Biden’s trip could also serve as a decisive mission to restore the Sino-American climate negotiations, which have fallen apart.

The United States and China spent months working to develop working groups before negotiations stalled, Kerry said, adding that the two sides were discussing Chinese efforts to reduce methane emissions and coal burning, as well as to improve the enforcement of the current anti-deforestation legislation.

“We had a group of really knowledgeable people ready to go,” Kerry said. She said that she had already met her Chinese counterparts this year in Davos, Berlin and Stockholm, and that they had planned to meet for “several days” before the UN conference to try to find concrete commitments.

Everything that now appears off the table, Kerry said.

“He is literally suspended in limbo. They suspended it, they didn’t stop it, but there is no sign that the suspension will be lifted, “he said. He said he would not speculate that the change reflected a broader and more autonomous change in China’s climate strategy. or something more short-term and less fundamental.

But Europe’s top climate negotiator Frans Timmermans said the nearly $ 370 billion in US climate investment from the new law would give China a boost even in the absence of direct dialogue with Washington.

“The fact that the United States is also walking now and not just talking about speeches has a huge impact on many,” Timmermans said in an interview.

“Every time we talk to the Chinese it’s the same: ‘Yes, ok, we know we need to do more, but whatever we announce, we actually do. [Americans] they say the right things but in reality they have done nothing, ‘”said Timmermans. “They can’t do it anymore and I think it’s probably the most important political element right now.”

Here’s what President Biden is doing to tackle climate change

He said that during a visit this week to New York and Washington, “my level of ambition was what we can do to avoid a train crash in Sharm el-Sheikh.” Now, he said, he was more confident that some of the heavier global emitters will raise their ambitions rather than step back from their commitments a year ago.

Other senior international energy and climate officials have said China’s actions to address its emissions, which according to estimates by the Rhodium group represents more than a quarter of the world’s annual carbon production, it will play a decisive role in global efforts to combat climate change.

“In the absence of cooperation with China on the climate change front, we have no chance of achieving our climate change goals,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in an interview. “I understand that there are great political obstacles, but I am in any case in favor of having an open channel on the climate in terms of cooperation between the two largest economies, China and the United States”.

Birol said Kerry’s personal relationship with China’s chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, could be crucial to reviving the conversation.

“Mutual personal trust can help achieve that,” Birol said.

Despite all the international goodwill created by climate legislation, policymakers still face daunting challenges as they enter the final stage of their discussions ahead of the meeting in Egypt. More than 1,500 people died in floods that Pakistan’s leaders called “apocalyptic”. Europe had the hottest summer in history. The fires covered most of the lower 48 states with a “large area of ​​light smoke,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

And the Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered an energy crisis in Europe that is forcing many countries to burn more fossil fuels in the short term to avoid freezing their citizens this winter. Paradoxically, this means that Europe is buying oil and gas from the same developing nations that have urged to reduce their emissions.

Catherine McKenna, a former Canadian environment minister, told a Columbia University panel this week that liquefied natural gas and crude oil were flowing from nations like Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt to Europe.

“The energy developed in Africa is being diverted to prevent energy poverty in Europe,” he said.

For some officials in the Biden administration, the fight against climate change is personal.

“I was born the first time we hit 350 parts per million,” said Ali Zaidi, Biden’s national climate councilor, who was born in Karachi. Before his parents moved to the United States, his mother had worked as a doctor in an overloaded public hospital during normal times, Zaidi said. One of his cousins ​​trained at Johns Hopkins University to work in public health in Pakistan.

“Karachi is relatively unflappable. But the outside areas are in serious trouble. It’s astounding, “she said.” People hear a third of it, but they don’t realize it’s tens of millions of people. “

Zaidi said “For me, red code for humanity – it’s here”.

This year’s UN climate talks come at a time of transition within the administration. Zaidi just replaced Biden’s first climate consultant, Gina McCarthy, who stepped down last week. John D. Podesta, a veteran Democrat politician, became a senior advisor to oversee how to distribute the new law’s climate finance.

“I intend to work with the teams here in the White House, the cabinet and their people to ensure that the promises contained in this bill to create that innovation cycle are realized,” Podesta said in an interview.

White House officials acknowledge that Kerry has been haunted by persistent rumors that he plans to step down after talks in Egypt, raising further questions about the future of relations with China. In an interview, he said he hadn’t made any plans yet.

“I’m at full speed,” Kerry said. “Honestly, I haven’t made any decisions about where things are going, where I’m going.”

Kerry said he believed the Inflation Reduction Act would help create a market for renewable, carbon-free technology that was so beneficial that large investments in fossil fuels simply wouldn’t make much economic sense in the future.

“Politicians will not change their minds by publishing this inflation reduction law, which will release an incredible amount of energy in this transition,” he said.

Jeff Stein in Washington and Allyson Chiu in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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