Will China Cool it in Glasgow?

The so-called Covid relief bill is passed and signed; the checks are out and the clock is ticking down to the spending explosion; cities are trying to figure out how to spend or squander their new cash; unions have been appeased by the bail-out of their pension plans; new entitlements have been put in place; lots of cash is set to hit voters’ pockets in 2022 in time for the elections; and millions of shots are going into the arms of millions of Americans every day. President Biden is entitled to take the victory lap on which he is engaged, even though a sharing of credit with his predecessor would be expected in most other businesses.

Time now to get down to what President Biden claims is his central concern, the one every department of government has been directed to consider as its policy lodestone: climate change. It is “the number one issue facing humanity. And it’s the number one issue for me…. Unchecked it’s going to actually bake this planet.” The President says America is to achieve “a 100 per cent clean energy economy and … net zero emissions no later than 2050.” That does not mean it will have to end all its CO2 emissions. Rather, companies can offset some of those emissions, earning credits for planting trees, financing more efficient cooking stoves in Africa or, whisper it, building nukes. More rigorous commitments to cut CO2 emissions or find more offsets than those agreed in Paris are to be put on the table by the U.S. and other delegations on or before November 1 when the 26th UN Climate Change Conference convenes in Glasgow. Its host, Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Both Johnson and Biden know that success in restraining global warning depends in good part on persuading China to do its share. Which won’t be easy. The Union of Concerned Scientists identifies the People’s Republic as the world’s largest producer of CO2 emissions, accounting for 28 per cent of the global total, almost twice America’s 15 per cent, and roughly the same as the three next largest emitters combined – the US, the EU and India. According to economic researchers at the Rhodium Group, China was the only major economy to increase its greenhouse gas emissions last year, and those emissions are “the equivalent of the total annual emissions of nearly 180 of the world’s lowest emitting nations combined.”

Also, Edward Cunningham of Harvard’s Kennedy School reports that China is building 300 coal plants around the world, in effect, exporting its future pollution. “When you put money down and steel into the ground for a coal-fired power plant, it’s a 40- or 50-year commitment,” Cunningham told a Belt and Road Forum convened in Beijing by Xi Jinping.

Biden will be sending to Glasgow John Kerry, his climate czar, who will face off against his Paris sparring partner, Xie Zhenhua, brought out from mothballs when President-for-Life Xi made an exception to the communist party’s retirement rule to bring the 71 year-old Xie back into the game, and not only because he has good relations with Kerry and his team. When they met in Paris in 2015, Xie convinced Kerry to have America reduce emissions while China was allowed to continue increasing its output of greenhouse gasses. Xi, understandably a fan of the Paris deal, apparently hopes that Xie will once again take the vainglorious climate czar to the cleaners.

But Kerry did not leave Paris empty-handed. He managed a great photo op, signing for America with his two-year old granddaughter perched on his lap. That did not impress the US Senate sufficiently to persuade President Obama to submit the agreement for concurrence by a constitutionally required two-thirds vote of the senate, which would have given it the force of federal law. Biden is unlikely to trouble the senate to review any Glasgow deal.

In search of a public relations victory, president Xi recently promised to have China reach net carbon neutrality by 2060, the means unspecified. Unfortunately, this is the man who promised not to militarize islands constructed in the South China Sea, to recognize the independence of Hong Kong, to abide by the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Which means that somehow the other participants must wring verifiable commitments from China or go home and concentrate on developing amelioration methods to enable their peoples to live in a hotter world.

We won’t know the specifics of the American plan until Biden reveals the details of the $2 trillion infrastructure programme that will be the cornerstone of his Build Back Better programme. It will include building and repairing roads, bridges and airports to please his trade union allies, and large dollops of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, or what speaker Nancy Pelosi dubs “the green dream or whatever they call it” if he is to avoid internecine warfare. Also, there are new snouts in the trough, as congress ends a ban on “set asides”, allowing lawmakers to direct funding to pet projects in their constituencies.

Giving away $1.9 trillion of borrowed money was easy. Pleasing everyone while spending $2 trillion on infrastructure, financed by raising taxes, will be harder.

Portions of this article appeared earlier in a piece dealing with proposals for policies to combat climate change.