France and Germany’s efforts to prod China to do more on climate prompted Beijing to sharply reject a key EU policy in a Friday call among leaders of the three countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping blasted EU plans to develop a so-called Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism — aimed at ensuring that companies producing in countries with laxer climate rules face a carbon cost when exporting to Europe.
“Tackling climate change should … not become an excuse for geopolitics, attacking other countries or trade barriers,” Xi said, according to Chinese state media Xinhua.
The accounts of the call differed significantly between Berlin and Beijing, while France didn’t release any readout as of Friday afternoon. According to Xinhua, Xi said: “I am willing to strengthen cooperation with France and Germany on climate change.”
The European spin was more subdued.
“The three have had calls like this in the past, as part of regular international relations on their side,” an EU official said.
An official German account of the conversation said Macron and Merkel “welcomed” Xi’s announcement last year that China would reach climate neutrality by 2060. It also noted that Xi had shifted China’s description of when it would peak emissions from “around 2030” to “by 2030,” while hinting they expected more.
“They supported the approach of China, to also adjust short-term [emissions] reduction goals,” the German readout said.
Perceptions of what Friday’s virtual meeting was about were quite different in recent days.
China had trumpeted the need for Western powers to forge cooperation with Beijing on climate change — despite tensions over a wide array of issues and a recent tit-for-tat sanctions scuffle set off by accusations of China’s human rights violations.
China even surprised officials in Berlin and Paris by announcing the call as a “climate summit.” That was later revised to “video summit.”
Looming over Friday’s chat was the United States, which is ramping up pressure on China to cut emissions ahead of President Joe Biden’s climate summit next week.
With U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in Shanghai, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told the Associated Press that the U.S. approach was “too negative” and lacked “a forward-looking spirit.” Kerry has consistently ruled out softening criticism of China over human rights abuses or trade tensions in order to work together on climate.
The EU and the U.S. are both calling on China, the world’s leading emitter, to do more to slash its greenhouse gas output.
But Le said shifting a country of 1.4 billion people wasn’t so easy. “Some countries are asking China to do more on climate change. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”
Xi did make some concrete promises in Friday’s call. He said China would ratify the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a mini treaty aimed at phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — refrigerant gases with a potent greenhouse effect. The EU has been trying to stamp out illegal imports of HFCs from China, the largest producer of the gases.
U.S. industry has championed the Kigali deal, so announcing China’s entrance while Kerry was in the country was a gift to the former U.S. secretary of state. But it’s small beer compared to Kerry’s effort to get China to change the year its emissions will peak from 2030 to 2025.
The Chinese statement also said Macron and Xi had agreed to boost green development efforts in Africa — a key cause for the French president.
For Beijing the optics are tricky. Making any climate announcement at Biden’s summit would hand the U.S. a diplomatic victory. Xi is expected to deliver an address at the Boao Forum of Asian countries over the weekend, with some observers suggesting the Chinese leader might use that space to raise China’s goals on its own terms.
Kalina Oroschakoff, Stuart Lau and Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.
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