Special presidential climate envoy John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that China has “moved somewhat” after concerted climate talks, but that the Biden administration is not merely “relying on somebody’s word” to ensure China meets its climate pledges.
The news: Kerry positioned China as an adversary and global economic competitor that requires not only United States pressure but a coordinated international effort to ensure the world can keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
"It's not a matter of taking things by trust," Kerry said. "It would be stupid and malpractice if we just set up a sort of trust thing."
He said Chinese President Xi Jinping calling climate change a “crisis” amounted to progress, as did Xi’s public comments during last month’s Leaders Summit on Climate that China would peak coal consumption by 2026. But he noted talks with China last month grew “very heated” over the nation’s financing of overseas coal-fired power plants, which would wreck chances at meeting the 1.5 degrees C goal.
“We’ve got to go back to work,” Kerry said of negotiations with China ahead of November climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. “We’ve got five more months left to get them to embrace something we hope you will view as legitimate. … We’re not there yet.”
The details: The former secretary of State said he discussed a unified strategy with European Union foreign ministers earlier this week to deal with China and other nations.
“We agreed to work extremely closely together, that we need to unify, particularly with respect to some of our conversations with China, with other countries where we are trying to move more rapidly to a mutuality of effort,” he said, noting his staff is engaged in deep talks with about 25 nations.
But those conversations so far have not settled on a coherent policy for international trade that could penalize China for failing to make progress. Both the EU and the Biden administration are assessing how to address carbon-intensive imported goods.
“That’s out there,” Kerry said of a carbon tariff, noting the United States would also have to see how it could comply with such a policy. “We’re examining how it might work, how it might be fair.”
The EU is weighing a border carbon adjustment, while President Joe Biden campaigned on a yet-undefined carbon fee. Some operating in the U.S. climate policy space have suggested the Biden administration could translate domestic standards and regulations to align with an EU price-based system, though trade experts have expressed doubt that such a concept is compliant with World Trade Organization rules.
When asked by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) whether the Biden administration would pursue a carbon price in conjunction with the EU to enforce tougher climate trade terms on China, Kerry demurred.
“No decision has been made at this point in time about carbon pricing,” Kerry said. “The president — it is not in his current plan. He is obviously embracing a clean electricity standard. That would be one big step forward if Congress were to come together on that. But I think you all need to develop further what that proposal might look like and whether or not it’s passable.”
Kerry also said the Biden administration would need Congress to approve more foreign climate aid to meet promises the president made last month to scale up funding. Such climate finance is critical for securing buy-in from developing nations who contend richer countries have skirted responsibility for helping poorer countries adapt to the effects of climate change largely caused by developed nations.
Kerry said that wealthy nations have put up $80 billion of a $100 billion goal floated in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate talks. That figure is debated, as critics say it accounts for mobilized finance and not purely public dollars that many developing nations believe rich ones agreed to in Copenhagen.
“We’re at $80 billion right now and I think it’s going to be very difficult at Glasgow if the developed nations can’t step up,” Kerry said.
Iran: Republicans on the committee pressed Kerry about his conversations during the Trump administration, when he was a civilian, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Allegations arose that Kerry shared intelligence about Israeli operations in Syria with Zarif, which Kerry has repeatedly denied. Some Republicans have nonetheless called for his resignation, despite the lack of evidence supporting their claims.
Kerry noted he and Zarif met four times, all at international events, during President Donald Trump’s term.
“I never had a discussion with him about Israel with respect to attacks or anything. No. I told you. That’s the end of the story,” he said.