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China Engages California on Climate After Trump’s Paris Snub

Posted by hkarner - 13. Juni 2017

Date: 12-06-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Beijing circumvents White House to work with U.S. states committed to emissions cuts

BEIJING—China’s government is working to keep climate-change cooperation with the U.S. alive after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, even if that means sidestepping the White House to seek closer ties with U.S. states.

Meetings in Beijing during the past week showed the competing agendas in U.S. energy politics and deep frustration inside China’s government over Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon what had been a rare platform for unity in the U.S.-China relationship.

China rolled out the red carpet for California Gov. Jerry Brown, a critic of Mr. Trump’s decision who arrived in China last weekend to take part in an international clean-energy forum and meet provincial officials. It was Mr. Brown that President Xi Jinping later welcomed to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People; U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, also in town for the forum, was received by a vice premier.Chinese officials expressed dismay with Mr. Trump’s decision. “I am so deeply disappointed,” said Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate change, during a gathering with Mr. Brown.

Since Mr. Trump’s decision, a coalition of a dozen U.S. states, including California, have committed to uphold America’s pledge to cut emissions 26% to 28% compared with 2005 levels.


For Beijing, working with U.S. states could burnish the image the country has sought to cultivate as an emerging global leader on climate issues. Some states can also share emissions-cutting expertise that leaders here are eager to acquire.

Mr. Xi sent perhaps the strongest signal that he hopes to see more local-level cooperation by meeting Gov. Brown.

Among the agreements Mr. Brown’s office announced during the week included plans to coordinate emission-reduction programs with China’s Ministry of Science and Technology and to set up a joint climate research institute between California and China’s Tsinghua University.

China is encouraging “all relevant parties to implement the Paris agreement,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday when asked about Mr. Brown’s visit.

Local U.S.-China cooperation has limits: National governments are needed to negotiate deals keeping world leaders marching in the same direction. Lacking a U.S. commitment, Mr. Xie, the Chinese climate envoy, used a gathering at Tsinghua University to urge U.S. and Chinese scientists and business leaders to step up cooperation.

Mr. Brown said he hopes more states and cities will join him in opposing Mr. Trump’s stance. “With Trump saying no, it’s up to states and localities to say yes—and they’re doing that,” he said.

Mr. Perry said he supported the rights of states to choose their own paths. “My hat’s off to Gov. Brown for the work that he does to promote California,” he said in Beijing on Friday. He said he faced no pressure from those he met for the U.S. to change its mind about leaving the Paris deal.

Mr. Perry’s arrival in China early in the week was preceded by the surprise announcement on Monday by the top U.S. diplomat in China, David Rank, that he was quitting to protest against Mr. Trump’s climate position. Mr. Rank, who was chargé d’affairs, had been expected to accompany Mr. Perry in meetings with Chinese officials.

Mr. Perry explained the Trump administration’s position on energy as an effort to balance economic growth with cleaning up the environment. He expressed support for fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas—both of which are abundant in the U.S. and could be sold to China in greater quantities.

The Trump administration says the U.S. has done more to reduce emissions than other top emitters, including China, outside agreements under the Paris accord. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the China-California talks.

During the Obama administration, China and the U.S. looked to broad agreement on climate change as a chance to showcase joint purpose in an often fraught relationship. Without the cooperation between the two biggest emitters, the Paris accord is unlikely to have gotten off the ground.

China and other major emitters said they would follow through on their commitments despite Mr. Trump’s decision.

How aggressively Beijing moves to cut emission levels after they peak by about 2030—as China has pledged to do—may depend on whether the U.S. is also on board. Reaching the global goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels would require significant cuts by China.

The dueling messages from Messrs. Perry and Brown contrasted with the united front Chinese officials present on major policy moves.

Zhou Dadi, vice president of the Beijing-backed Energy Research Institute, said China recognizes that the U.S. system allows states and cities to shape their own positions on the Paris commitments.

“In the United States, local governments can play a more important role,” Mr. Zhou said, drawing a distinction with China’s more centralized decision-making.

China’s president alluded to that difference in his meeting Tuesday with Mr. Brown, the governor said. Mr. Xi’s message, he said: “When we set our minds to something we mobilize our society and make it happen.”

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