WASHINGTON – Biden’s government is nearing agreements with Japan, Korea and Canada to strengthen carbon emissions reduction targets in all four countries ahead of a closely watched Earth Day summit on April 22nd.
Given recent signs of how difficult it will be for President Biden to make climate change a central part of his foreign policy, doing similar deals with China, India and Brazil, economic engines that collectively generate more than a third of global emissions, is difficult tangible.
John Kerry, Mr Biden’s global climate officer, is preparing for a last-minute trip to China and South Korea ahead of the summit that Mr Biden will host. Mr. Kerry arrives on Wednesday and several high-level meetings are expected in Shanghai on Thursday. The collaboration of the world’s largest emitter of climate change pollution is critical to slowing global warming, but Beijing is also Washington’s greatest rival on the world stage.
With Brazil, the efforts of the Biden government to negotiate a rainforest protection plan for the Amazon with the Conservative President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, have divided environmental officials bitterly in light of the Bolsonaro’s dire environmental record.
And in India, where Mr Kerry recently concluded three days of negotiations that contained no specific pledge to strengthen climate change in New Delhi, the government must weigh its need to work with its human rights concerns. Meanwhile, India’s leaders have been unsettled by pressure to make an announcement in time for Mr Biden’s summit next week, having worked for the past four years with a U.S. government that is leading the remainder of the global fight against it had given up on global warming.
“Maybe there is a little time lag in rebuilding that trust and relationship,” said Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, a climate change nonprofit based in New Delhi.
The focus of the summit of leaders on climate will be the Biden administration’s plan to cut American emissions by 2030 and how to overcome fierce Republican opposition. The ambitions and practicality of this goal could determine the success of the Biden government in convincing other nations to do more than they have already promised.
“Summitry is theater, and it can be very powerful when there is a big centerpiece,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and climate advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General. “The heart of the matter is the US plan.”
The end goal is a productive meeting of the United Nations in Glasgow in November, where the nearly 200 nations that have signed up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change legally set their stricter goals aimed at keeping the worst of climate change at bay should anchor.
In public, the Biden administration has tried to dampen expectations that other countries will make important announcements at the US event. But behind the scenes, State Department diplomats have tried to get the Allies to do just that.
In a statement, Mr Kerry declined to specifically address the likelihood of other countries joining the United States in major announcements, saying the summit will be an opportunity for major economies and other countries to work together at the highest possible level on the issue tackle climate crisis. “
US progress on new deals with some developed countries in less than three months is testament to the climate diplomacy that Mr Kerry has carried out. He has traveled to six countries and has held dozens of video conferences and phone calls every week since January.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, is expected to announce a new emissions target of 50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030 before meeting with Mr Biden in Washington on Friday, according to a US official familiar with the state Discussions. The United States and Japan have also discussed new restrictions on coal funding, though an announcement is still unclear.
A major South Korean news agency, Maeil Business Newspaper, reported this week that South Korean leaders are ready to announce a moratorium on overseas coal funding. And Canada, which has already signed a strong bilateral agreement with the United States on climate change, has announced that it will announce stronger targets at the summit.
However, the deal with China has proven difficult. At a recent meeting held in Anchorage, American and Chinese officials argued over trade, human rights and Beijing’s increasingly aggressive moves towards Taiwan.
Tensions were so high that US officials rejected an early report that, despite other differences, countries had agreed to form a working group on climate change.
“In Washington, there is concern among people working on China that climate actors want a US-China deal at the expense of compromising a wider range of strategic issues,” said Joanna Lewis, director of science, technology at Georgetown University’s program for international affairs and Chinese energy policy expert.
“I think you were sensitive to this and I think Kerry is sensitive to this,” said Ms. Lewis.
Mr Kerry has made public statements attempting to separate the government’s desire to work with China on climate change from other issues in the relationship.
“President Biden made it clear, and I made it clear: none of the other problems we have with China and there are problems, being taken hostage or in a trade for what we need to do for the climate. ” he said recently.
Some Chinese analysts are optimistic. David Sandalow, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy, said a new announcement would allow China to both revamp its climate credentials and ease tensions with Washington.
Others noted that Mr Kerry is unlikely to make such a high-profile trip to China if he thinks he will return home empty-handed.
“If China does absolutely nothing at this summit, it will be a direct slap in the face of Biden,” said Paul Bledsoe, strategic advisor to the Progressive Policy Institute, a democratic research organization.
China has already announced that it will not release any net carbon emissions by 2060. Several analysts said the Chinese government had little need to set another new target, particularly on Biden’s schedule, and was cautious about giving in to US pressure.
Just as significantly, Beijing leaders remain concerned that the Biden administration’s assurances that the United States is genuinely ready to curb its own emissions are as shaky as those given by former President Barack Obama made practically all of his policy before his successor’s extermination.
“It’s just hard to really trust the US government,” said Taiya Smith, a senior research fellow with the Climate Leadership Council, a conservative group campaigning for a carbon tax.
“Before countries can really trust the US, there is a lot that needs to be shown,” Ms. Smith said. “We need to be able to demonstrate that this is not just another fad of American politics.”
Li Shuo, senior climate policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia, said if talks with Mr. Kerry go well this week, China could announce new targets at the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference that will be held in Boao, China, from Monday. This would allow China to make an announcement on its home turf to avoid appearing to be pressured by the United States. But any new destination would give China something to offer at Mr Biden’s summit.
“A lot depends on what happens in the next three days,” said Shuo.
Somini Sengupta contributed to the coverage from New York.