China accuses U.S. of being climate ‘troublemaker’

Source: By Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2020

China blasted the U.S. for its environmental record yesterday in a move seen as a rebuke of similar criticism Washington levied last month against Beijing.

A document issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs took the U.S. to task for its record on green issues such as wildlife protection and climate change, especially under President Trump. It appeared to be a direct rebuttal of a similar list of grievances published Sept. 25 by the U.S. State Department.

In both cases, the document was labeled as a “fact sheet.”

“China almost never releases statements like this one proactively,” said Joanna Lewis, an expert on China’s environmental policies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. She described it as a response to the State Department memo.

The Chinese missive charged the U.S. with having “seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance.”

“It is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker,” wrote Chinese officials in their criticism of the U.S. “With regard to what it has done to the environment, the U.S. has yet to justify itself to its own people and to other people in the world.”

It noted that Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement and walked away from pledges of emissions reduction and climate aid for poor countries made under the previous administration. The Chinese memo also pointed to U.S. intransigence under Trump at meetings of the Group of 20 forum for major developed and developing economies, where climate change was previously a matter of agreement.

“Due to the negative stance of the U.S., the leaders’ declarations of the G20 summits failed to reach consensus on climate change for three consecutive years starting from 2017,” it stated, noting that the other 19 participants issued separate joint statements on the subject.

Trump and members of his administration frequently tout U.S. carbon reductions since 2005, often suggesting a contrast to those that remain in Paris, such as the European Union, China and India.

At his first debate with former Vice President Joe Biden in September, Trump questioned why Biden didn’t “get the world” to stop polluting during his five decades in the U.S. government.

“China sends up real dirt into the air,” Trump said.

The State Department memo, issued a few days before the first debate, blasted China as a bad actor on marine litter, ozone-depleting chemicals and air pollution.

On climate, it noted that China had surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top global greenhouse gas emitter in 2006 and now emits twice as much the U.S. every year.

But the Chinese ministry countered yesterday that because carbon dioxide stays in the Earth’s atmosphere for centuries, the U.S. is responsible for three times more cumulative atmospheric CO2 than China.

Worldwide, the environment has given China a reputational boost even as it faces criticism for its human rights abuses and aggressive geopolitical stance. Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping won plaudits for promising China would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

The State Department’s indictment of China’s environmental record came just after Xi’s announcement to the United Nations General Assembly.

“China is clearly riding a wave of international praise over its newly announced carbon neutrality goal,” said Lewis, noting that China chose to attack the U.S. environmental record rather than defend its own.

China also used yesterday’s memo to blast the U.S. for “citing unfounded reasons such as human trafficking and human rights violations” to keep poor countries from accessing capital from multilateral climate funds. The Green Climate Fund board member for the U.S. last year blocked China’s only proposed project to date.

Despite its commitment to Paris, China remains an environmental villain in the eyes of U.S. leaders.

Biden’s own rhetoric on China has sharpened in recent months, and he has promised as president to join allies in putting pressure on China over its own emissions and those that emanate from its international Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

That’s a sharp departure from Obama-era U.S.-China collaborations on climate.