China pressured to reduce its carbon emissions at global climate change summit

U.S. and Chinese climate negotiators met formally for the first time in months at the COP27 global climate summit. Beijing had blocked bilateral climate discussions back in August, but they resumed after President Biden’s meeting earlier this week with Chinese President Xi. Nick Schifrin reports on the collaboration and China’s outsized impact on climate change.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    This week, U.S. and Chinese climate negotiators met formally for the first time in months at the 27th global climate summit known as COP.

    Beijing had blocked bilateral climate discussions back in August, but they resumed after President Biden's meeting earlier this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

    Nick Schifrin reports on U.S.-China climate collaboration and China's outsized impact on climate change.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    When it comes to climate change, China is both firefighter and arsonist.

    Beijing produces more greenhouse emissions than the rest of the world combined, but also more solar power, wind power and electric cars than any other country. And so when climate negotiators try and agree on measures to save the planet and cap global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, all eyes were on number two emitter the U.S. — that's climate envoy John Kerry on the right — and his first meeting with a emitter number one, which after the meeting did not seem eager to talk to the press.

    Joanna Lewis, The Georgetown University: Well, China and the United States are the world's two largest economies, the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. So, historically, when they're able to come together on climate change, it makes a really big difference.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Joanna Lewis directs Georgetown's Science,Technology and International Affairs Program and has studied China's climate policies for decades. She says China's cutting off climate discussions after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's August Taiwan visit prevented collaboration for clean energy financing and mutual pledges to reduce methane.

  • Joanna Lewis:

    We are currently on path to a 3.6-degree world. We need to get much closer to a 1.5- to 2-degree world. And China, of course, is just really pivotal to our ability to limit emissions to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Beijing resists U.S. calls to accelerate its plan to cap CO2 emissions by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2060. It's the world's largest producer and consumer of coal. And in the last few years, it's increased coal production.

  • Rebecca Nadin, Overseas Development Institute:

    We saw at the 20th party Congress Xi Jinping's speech, yes, climate change is important, but, actually, energy security is more important.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Rebecca Nadin is the lead on climate and China at the Overseas Development Institute and advised China's government on climate adaptation.

    She says China believes in a green future and wants to lead the green technology market, but not at the expense of losing profits or jobs.

  • Rebecca Nadin:

    That reliance on coal as a transition fuel is going to stay in China's energy mix for the foreseeable future.

  • Man:

    As our land disappears, we have no choice but to become the world's first digital nation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the nation's most vulnerable to climate change demand faster change. At this year's COP, Tuvalu used a digital recreation of the fate they fear, their island nation subsumed by the rising sea.

    Developing nations are demanding not only money to adapt their infrastructure to reduce future emissions. They're also pushing the rich to pay for the loss and damage of current climate disasters.

    And for the first time, the Alliance of Small Island States says the rich include China. Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne, told reporters at COP: "We all know that the People's Republic of China, India, they're major polluters, and the polluter must pay. I don't think there's any free pass for any country."

    China climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said last week China was willing to help, but Beijing rules out the cash pledges made by some of the other leading emitters.

  • Rebecca Nadin:

    Chinese media was running stories saying, well, OK, yes, we are — we are a huge emitter, but it's only — we only have these huge emissions because we were the manufacturing hub for the developed world.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    China is the world's manufacturing hub for solar. It controls more than 80 percent of the global supply chain. But much of the manufacturing takes place in Xinjiang, where the U.S. accuses China of using forced labor.

    Now the U.S. has banned imports and hopes to create a domestic solar energy manufacturing supply chain.

  • Joanna Lewis:

    If we're going to be looking at ways to make sure our supply chains are secure and domestically produced, we may be doing so at the expense of slowing the low carbon transition.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And yet, overall, the administration wants to work with China on climate. But as the U.S. confronts Beijing over human rights abuses and military threats to Taiwan and tries to restrict China's access to Western technology, China resists collaboration.

    As a Chinese official put it: "If you're slapping me in the face, I'm not going to be your friend."

  • Rebecca Nadin:

    The U.S. and China working together on climate change, in terms of the negotiations, in terms of accelerating financing, in terms of accelerating the move towards net zero for both countries, it's not going to happen if there's a lot of tension in that bilateral relationship.

  • John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy For Climate Change:

    And I want to introduce China's special envoy, Xie Zhenhua.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There's no climate decoupling, but now the U.S. and China have to turn rapprochement into leadership required to save the planet.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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