China Defends Its Fossil Fuel Emissions, Says U.S. Slowed Down Climate Efforts Under Trump

China's senior climate negotiator said Tuesday his nation has good reason for being the world's biggest fossil-fuel emitter of pollution, according to the Associated Press.

Speaking to reporters at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Xie Zhenhua explained why China is so reliant on fossil fuels and also criticized former President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

China has had a small presence at the summit, with President Xi Jinping not joining other world leaders at the event. But Xie discussed China's efforts to address climate change. "Regarding the fact that China is the current largest emitter, it's because China is at a special development stage," he said, according to the AP. The nation will accelerate its emissions cuts later, he added. Last year, China said it will become carbon neutral by 2060.

"We do not only make promises," Xie said. "We honor our promises with real action." He also said that because of Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Paris accord, "we have wasted already five years, and now we need to work harder and catch up."

Climate negotiators have split opinions on China. Some welcomed Xi's announcements last year on cutting emissions, but China's goal of becoming carbon neutral a decade later than other nations has brought international calls to move more quickly, the AP said.

No new climate efforts by China have been announced so far at the Glasgow summit.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

China Climate
China's "special development stage" justifies its status as the world's biggest emitter of fossil fuel pollution, the nation's senior climate negotiator said Tuesday. Above a flooded cornfield on October 22, months after torrential rain flooded the region of Zhaoguo village in central China's Henan province. AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

As a major climate polluter and as the world's second-biggest economy, China has been much talked about, but little seen, at the summit.

Xie, who played a pivotal role in negotiations that achieved the Paris climate accord, underscored China's long-standing position that the United States and other developed nations should be the ones acting faster to cut climate-damaging emissions, not China.

China is already "making our biggest possible effort to address climate change," Xie said, saying China was unable to start reining in its reliance on coal-fired power plants any quicker than it already was.

Despite China's status as an economic powerhouse, its leaders argue that factors that include China's modest per-capita income make it a developing country still.

As such, it bears less burden to cut emissions than economies like the United States or Europe that have already powered to wealth by burning coal and petroleum, China argues. The average American still produces more than twice the climate-damaging amount of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels than the average Chinese citizen does.

China and U.S. officials long have played a mutual blame game as global warming intensifies, with China faulting the U.S. as the world's largest climate polluter historically. Trump's administration pointed to China's pollution in justifying rollbacks of U.S. climate efforts.

President Joe Biden used the summit Monday to express regret for the U.S. role in climate damage.

"Those of us who are responsible for much of the deforestation and all of the problems we have so far," Biden said, have "overwhelming obligations" to the poorer nations that account for few of the emissions yet are paying a price as the planet has grown hotter.

Biden also apologized Monday for Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord, saying that "put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit" on combating climate change.

Xie on Tuesday dismissed a reporter's question about whether China, as the world's current worst carbon emitter, bore any similar obligations to other countries for China's role in damaging the Earth's climate.

Instead, he faulted the U.S., saying it was Trump's withdrawal from the Paris accord that slowed down climate efforts.

Biden rejoined the accord earlier this year as one of his first acts as president.