Biden Official Praises China's Response to This Issue

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently praised China's efforts to combat climate change despite being among the top producers of the world's annual carbon emissions along with the United States.

In an SXSW Studio interview posted on Friday, TV host Wajahat Ali asked the U.S. energy secretary about how China and the U.S. could be held accountable for substantial climate damage.

Granholm said that the administration of President Joe Biden has been trying to get countries to agree to "very aggressive targets" that would prevent global temperatures from going over 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is included in the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change.

"We [the U.S.] said we want to get to net zero [emissions] by 2050. We are really pushing other countries to do the same," she said, adding that countries are susceptible to peer pressure because no nation wants to be the "outlier."

Chinese climate initiatives have been noticeable, according to Granholm, but the Climate Action Tracker determined in November that China's updated NDC (nationally determined contributions), also known as National Climate Plans or targets, remains "highly insufficient" and that if all countries took the same path, it would result in global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, which is double the targeted figure.

Biden Official Praises China's Response to This-issue
Above, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks during a daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on January 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Granholm recently praised China’s efforts to combat climate change despite being among the top producers of the world’s annual carbon emissions along with the United States. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

China's emissions have increased by 3.4 percent to 14.1 GtCO2e (1 billion tons of carbon dioxide) in 2021, according to an estimate by the Climate Action Tracker, which attributed the increase to a spike in energy demand. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said in 2021 that China is producing more than a quarter of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

That same year, the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,347.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, or 5,593.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Still, Granholm thinks that China has been successful in achieving its climate goals and that the world can learn from the country's climate policies. However, it is unclear whether she is referring to the country's global or domestic climate goals.

"I think China has been very sensitive and has actually invested a lot in their solutions to achieve their goals," she said on Friday. "So we're hopeful that we can all learn from what China is doing, but the amount of money that they're investing in clean energy is actually encouraging."

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy told Newsweek that Granholm was referring to China's investments in clean energy.

China has invested $380 billion in clean energy in 2021 and has built solar and wind plants at a massive scale, according to Grid. In 2022, China invested $546 billion in projects that included solar and wind energy, electric vehicles and batteries, according to the Scientific American.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration's current clean energy laws are paving the way for investments focused on combating climate change and improving U.S. energy security, according to the spokesperson.

In August, Biden signed into law one of the country's largest clean energy investment in U.S. history, which included nearly $370 billion in subsidies for U.S. solar and wind energy development, electric vehicles.

U.S.-China relations have long been tense, partially over their stances on the sovereignty of Taiwan and military power, but have agreed to cooperate on climate change.

The world's two largest carbon emitters have cooperated through the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change in 2014, which was a key pillar in successful negotiations related to the Paris Agreement, according to a report by the London School of Economics (LSE.)

Both nations also agreed at the COP26 in 2021 to improve climate action in the 2020s through the U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration. However, when former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, Beijing suspended bilateral climate talks related to this declaration, according to The Guardian.

How China is Combating Climate Change

Granholm's recent praise seems to be relevant to some of China's announced climate ambitions. The country has set out national policies through five-year plans that would tackle climate change for each political term, The Guardian reported in November. For its 14th plan, from 2021 to 2025, China vowed to be committed to reduce the amount of carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 65 percent.

Additionally, Chinese banks vowed to not invest in new overseas coal projects. Shuang Liu, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, recently told the Asia Society, "We haven't seen any new coal projects after September 2021, so the data also supports the progress we've seen on overseas coal investment."

China also heavily invested in electric vehicles, as it had around 10 million new-energy vehicles by June 2022, according to a report by the LSE. Those vehicles include battery electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell. New projects in China also greatly contributed to global addition of wind power, according to The Guardian.

The country also vowed to slash its usage of coal, which makes up nearly two-thirds of China's energy consumption, according to the CFR, as it announced that it will no longer build coal-fired power plants abroad, according to a World Bank 2022 report.

Update 3/11/2023, 5:02 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to include comments from the Department of Energy and additional information.