The climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, ended on Saturday, with China and India demanding a watered down declaration on coal. While the vast majority of delegations supported a call to "phase out" the use of coal in power generation, China and India demanded the language be changed to "phase down." This shift reflects the continuing dependence of both nations on coal. As the respective largest and third largest carbon emitters globally, the Sino-Indian action may have significant consequences.
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First, this the earliest proof of U.S. climate tsar John Kerry's diplomatic folly. Only this week did Kerry declare victory with a U.S.-Chinese carbon declaration. That declaration carried no enforcement mechanisms, but does include an implicit U.S. commitment to provide Beijing with U.S. taxpayer dollars to support carbon mitigation efforts. Kerry also allowed that declaration to give China its "phase down" template to then apply to the broader COP26 declaration.
Second, this "phase down" insistence reflects the Communist Party's fear over its situation at home and abroad.
Xi faces rising international pressure over his territorial and human rights policies. But it's also clear he believes that China must continue to use coal in such amounts as to attract international scrutiny. Xi appears to have assessed that to accept the "phase out" language would open him to unacceptable risk of retaliation by foreign partners, particularly the European Union. A cornerstone of Xi's grand strategy for global dominance is to use trade to separate the EU from the U.S. alliance structure. But if Xi is seen to play too many games on climate, he fears that otherwise docile European leaders will challenge his trade strategy. Put simply, Xi has decided that upsetting the Europeans with his words, now, is preferable to upsetting them more with his actions, later.
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Yet it's the domestic scene which is most crucial to explaining why Xi has made this decision.
Xi might be the most powerful Chinese Communist leader since Mao, but he is increasingly paranoid. Most pertinent to coal, serious power cuts have undermined the economy and, as winter approaches, threaten social stability. Xi's focus on this social concern is underestimated in the West. Xi and his Standing Committee inner circle are confronting what they regard as excessive consumerism, and unacceptable capital independence by major businesses. Reflecting the party's paranoia over its credibility, the Communists are also cracking down on non-compliant speech. But as Covid-19 lockdowns continue and power cuts reverberate, public tensions may grow. Even a mild uprising or protest movement would be catastrophic to the regime, reflecting fissures that undermine Xi's presentation of a nation united behind his "Chinese dream."
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Coal offers at least some consolidation against those concerns. So coal it will be. But the Biden administration, the EU, and Pacific island nations should take note. Xi doesn't share their priorities.
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Tags:Opinion, Beltway Confidential, Foreign Policy, National Security, China, Communist Party, Climate Change, Scotland, Coal, Carbon
Original Author:Tom Rogan
Original Location:Decoding China's "phase down" coal demand