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China-US ambitions entered into negotiations at COP conference

China-US ambitions entered into negotiations at COP conference

“Of course the US wants to break up the BASIC block. It’s been a force in the negotiations, and it probably still will show up here one way or another. I would be very shocked if it wasn’t.

“But [the coal deal] will probably knock off the rough edges of how it works, if South Africa knows this cash flow is coming in to save their utility system, which is a complete mess.

“South Africa may not be that far behind what China wants. So I think the US has gone through a very deliberative process here.

So what does China want? Well, traditionally, China and BASIC have resisted calls to bolster emissions reduction ambitions.

At this COP, there may also be differences in the design of new rules on how emissions should be measured and accounted for. Some developing countries are concerned about the cost and technical feasibility of measuring their economies’ carbon emissions.

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Attempts to separate China from its broad support among many climate-vulnerable and developing countries are not new. Indeed, the $100 billion wealthy nations that pledged to “mobilize” annually by 2020 to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation was originally heralded by Hillary Clinton as a mechanism to accomplish just that.

The figure, says Mohamed Adow, director of the climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa, was neither up to the task nor based on serious needs analysis. Rather, it was a political wedge of shock and awe.

In the end, it was never delivered either and only served to reinforce the sense of desolation felt by the nations it was promised to.

While the West promises too much and delivers too little, Adow says, China has steadily built friendships in places like Africa with funding for infrastructure and, during the pandemic, with vaccines, he says.

Developing countries needed funding for mitigation before the temperature rises started biting, and when they started to hit, they needed support for adaptation. As temperatures continue to rise and adaptation targets were never properly set, let alone met, they now need funding for loss and damage from extreme weather events.

After triggering what Boris Johnson called “the Doomsday Clock” with the industrial revolution, rich countries have failed developing countries at every turn, Adow says.

And at Monday’s COP, with its focus on finance, it still didn’t understand how betrayed developing countries feel.

South Africa’s stance within BASIC may be dulled by their new funding, but the rest of Africa isn’t likely to abandon its more trusted friend in China, Adow says.

Adow’s fear is that geostrategic competition at the COP is undermining the unity of action the crisis requires, and which the Paris Agreement has somewhat secured.

He looks back on World War II when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill forged an alliance to defeat Hitler.

“Don’t look at the physics of climate change,” he insists. “Look at politics. It’s not in it.”

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