Will China Play the U.S. on Climate?

President Biden’s 40-nation “virtual climate summit” is scheduled to begin on Earth Day, April 22. Even at this late date, it’s not clear that Xi Jinping, the supreme leader of the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide by far will even show up. But whether China appears or not, there’s sure to be some shaming of the U.S., despite our having reduced carbon dioxide emissions more than any other nation on earth in the past 15 years.

China is truly adept at playing Democratic administrations for fools on climate. In 2014, Barack Obama announced an “historic breakthrough” when, he said, China agreed to reduce its emissions. In fact, all China said was that its emissions would stabilize “around 2030,” which was actually just business-as-usual predicted my many energy experts, as China’s economy translates from developing to maturing.

In the succeeding years, China has added a huge amount of coal-fired electrical generation and manufacturing capacity. Our emissions were about the same as theirs around 2005, but in the succeeding 15 years, China’s emissions have become double ours. Given China’s remarkable increase in coal use in recent years, and with plans for further increases that dwarf anything in the rest of the planet, it’s quite possible that China will be emitting three times as much as the U.S. by 2030.

If the Chinese government actually cared about global warming, it would be switching to natural gas, which produces power more cheaply and cleanly than coal. We’ve got plenty to sell them. Instead, China’s policy is to jack emissions as high as is humanly possible by 2030, and then keep them there, for decades.

Joe Biden will call all of this a “breakthrough”. John Kerry, his climate czar and the force behind the toothless Paris Climate yes-it-is-a Treaty is already crowing about seeking “climate cooperation” with China.

China has already signaled that it’s not going to announce any big new commitments at Biden’s climate fest. But Germany’s Angela Merkel sees hope: Chinese rhetoric appears to have evolved from “around 2030” to “by 2030” for emissions stabilization. By then, their emissions will be so high that pretty much whatever the U.S. does will have little to no discernible effect on global temperatures within any reasonable policy horizon.