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China Must Speed Up Emissions Cuts, John Kerry Says

·4 min read
China Must Speed Up Emissions Cuts, John Kerry Says

(Bloomberg) -- China must move more swiftly to pare greenhouse gas emissions and turn away from coal-fired power to help the world stave off the worst consequences of global warming, the top U.S. climate diplomat said Wednesday.

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“We hope China can begin to reduce at some point sooner,” said John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, in an interview to be aired Wednesday on “Balance of Power With David Westin.”

China -- the world’s No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the U.S. -- on Tuesday promised to stop building new coal-fired power plans outside the country.

The announcement by President Xi Jinping could spur a sharp reduction in the construction of new coal plants in developing nations, as China is the largest source of financing for the projects. However, it was unclear if Xi’s pronouncement meant China would cut off all financing for coal-fired power plants, and the country stopped short of ordering a halt to building them within its own borders.

Kerry said he has been discussing mutual efforts by the U.S. and China to limit the use of coal-fired power domestically. “It would be great if we could do that,” Kerry said. “We’ve certainly talked about it over the last eight months.”

“Hopefully, President Xi will feel this is a way for the U.S. and China to get on a collaborative track that begins to open possibilities to do the other things we also need to focus on,” Kerry said.

China is still in the process of developing an official road map to zero out emissions. The nation’s plan for the next five years aims to reduce carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 18% through 2025 and cut energy use per unit of GDP by 13.5%.

Kerry also dangled the prospect of a tariff on carbon-intensive imports as a way to combat climate change if nations don’t limit their emissions and reliance on coal-fired power to fuel cheap manufacturing. The European Union has already proposed a carbon border adjustment mechanism that would slap a levy on goods from steel to aluminum, and other countries are weighing similar action.

“A lot of that depends on what other countries that are big coal users decide,” Kerry said. “If they decide they’re going to compete with the rest of the world and they’re going to compete by producing goods at lower cost than everybody else because everybody else is adding on the cost of dealing with climate and they’re not, that’s an invitation to a carbon border adjustment mechanism.”

Kerry said the approach could be a “last resort” if countries fail to act.

“Far more effective would be for the world to come together to raise the ambition, broadly -- all of us together -- for what we’re going to do in the next 10 years and to contemplate the possibilities of pricing carbon on a global basis,” Kerry said.

“If that were to happen, you’d have a lot more rapid reduction in emissions and probably a lot more certainty in the marketplace,” said Kerry, who emphasized he was speaking for himself -- not the administration -- on carbon pricing.

Kerry’s comments come as world leaders prepare for international climate negotiations in less than six weeks and amid increasingly dire warnings that nation’s promised carbon cuts fall short of what’s needed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a critical tipping point.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday pledged to double the money the U.S. will spend helping poorer nations fight climate change, adopt clean energy and build resilience -- a move heralded as a potential breakthrough in spurring greater efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Most of that money -- about $11.4 billion per year by 2024 -- would have to come through Congress, where a narrow partisan divide threatens to derail other administration priorities.

“I think everybody understands that we have a complicated Congress right now,” Kerry said. But, he said, there’s a majority in Congress that understands the urgency to act. “With respect to climate, I believe there are Republicans who are ready to come to the table now.”

(Updates with comments on tariffs and Congress from seventh paragraph.)

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