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China Complicates Biden’s Climate Change Cooperation Push

February 4, 2021

Climate Change Weekly #387

President Joe Biden has made fighting climate change the cornerstone of his administration’s domestic and international policy initiatives. This fact is already creating a huge China problem for Biden and the United States.

John Kerry is Biden’s handpicked climate envoy, responsible for negotiating international agreements to accelerate greenhouse gas emission reductions to fight climate change. An article in Vox notes that the U.S. relationship with China will be all about climate change under the Biden administration:

In December, US foreign policy expert Thomas Wright wrote an article in the Atlantic with a provocative claim: That Kerry would prioritize extracting climate change-related concessions from China, and to do so would minimize America’s plans to push Beijing on trade, security, and human rights issues:
“According to three people familiar with Kerry’s thinking, Kerry believes that cooperation with China is the key to progress on climate change and that climate is by far the most important issue in the relationship between the United States and China. Kerry thinks the U.S. president should use his political capital to press Beijing on this subject.

Early on, the Biden administration has talked tough about China, as The Wall Street Journal reports:

Besides issuing a formal invitation to Taiwan’s top Washington representative to attend the inauguration (the first such invitation since the U.S. established formal relations with Beijing in 1979), the incoming team has pledged to continue arms sales to Taiwan and indicated that it wants to delay high-level U.S.-China talks until it consults with close allies—a stand that China will interpret as a rebuff. As if this weren’t enough, Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken announced that he concurs with his predecessor Mike Pompeo’s finding that China is engaged in a genocide against its mostly Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang province. Taken with the previously planned dispatch of a naval strike group to the South China Sea, it all amounts to a stern message to Beijing.

On January 27, the day Biden devoted to issuing executive orders aimed at fighting climate change, Kerry signaled the United States would stay tough on China despite the administration’s climate aspirations:

“Obviously we have serious differences with China,” the envoy [Kerry] said during the White House briefing, citing Beijing’s theft of intellectual property and aggression in the South China Sea as examples. “Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate. That’s not going to happen,” Vox reports Biden saying.

The problem is it is unclear how long Biden will be able and willing to talk and act tough with China if he wants to reach climate goals unattainable without China’s cooperation.

Biden’s policies are already undermining his tough China stance, giving Beijing the upper hand in climate negotiations.

Former President Donald Trump carefully crafted policies designed to make America energy-independent, in part by increasing domestic oil and gas production. In addition, to improve the United States’ national security, Trump signed orders expediting the exploration and production of minerals and rare-earth elements critical to electronics, energy production, and military technologies. China currently controls the production and refining of many of these minerals, and for some critical minerals China is the only supplier. The Trump administration also imposed a ban on electric utilities buying bulk power equipment critical to electric power grid operation from China, and it barred utilities supplying electricity to critical defense facilities from importing or using certain power equipment from China.

Under Biden, by contrast, China’s influence over U.S. energy and its power in bilateral political negotiations has already grown.

Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris climate agreement puts the United States at a competitive disadvantage with China. The agreement calls for the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply, which can only realistically be done by reducing the use of our abundant, inexpensive, reliable fossil fuels—and ultimately by slashing the use of energy overall. The Paris agreement places no restrictions on China, which is building hundreds of coal-fueled power plants that produce reliable, inexpensive electricity. Under the Paris agreement China has said it expects its greenhouse gas emissions (already the highest in the world and growing) will peak by 2030 or 2035.

Biden’s retroactive withdrawal of permission for the Keystone XL pipeline, his ban on new oil and gas leases on public lands, and his revocation of 70 permits for oil and gas production granted in the waning days of the Trump administration have already put thousands of Americans out of work. Over time, these orders will also result in lower revenues for federal, state, and local governments and will reduce our domestic oil and gas supplies, undermining U.S. energy independence.

Back to China: in late January, just a week into Biden’s tenure as president, Shandong Xinchao (SX), an energy company based in China, agreed to purchase U.S. oil and gas assets from Texas-based Grenadier Energy Partners, for $420 million. SX is thus gaining control of U.S. assets currently producing 9,000 barrels of oil and gas equivalent per day, with proven reserves of 65 million barrels. As SX states in its prospectus, the company is subject to the laws, rules, and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, which means that it is unlikely this sale would have gone through under Trump.

As Powermag points out, Biden also quietly rescinded Trump’s order to block utilities from purchasing from China equipment critical to the U.S. energy distribution system—which, on its face, seems to violate Biden’s stated “buy America” policy and is likely to make our power system less secure.

In addition, Biden’s requirement to shift to an all-electric vehicle fleet and his call for expansion of wind and solar power will likely make the United States even more dependent on China for critical rare earth minerals. The batteries powering electric vehicles, and those that will increasingly serve as backup power for the growing number of wind and solar industrial facilities Biden will mandate, require lithium, among other critical minerals. Unless Biden allows a Nevada lithium mine Trump approved late in his term as president to begin production, we will have to go begging to China for our batteries or the lithium needed to build them.

The United States produces only 1 percent of the world’s lithium and 7 percent of refined lithium chemicals, importing 70 percent of the lithium we use. China is the third-largest producer of raw lithium, and it produces 51 percent of the refined lithium sold outside of China on world markets. Even countries that produce more lithium than China send much of their lithium there for refining.

On top of all that, there are signs Biden’s China/climate problems are only going to get worse. As the New York Post and Newsweek have both reported, China rebuffed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s appeal to Beijing to work with the United States on climate change, made shortly after he said he agreed with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assessment that China’s treatment of its minority Uighur Muslim community was a “genocide.” Newsweek’s article on the topic, headlined “China Uses Climate Change To Threaten Joe Biden Administration,” reports China is already using climate change as a bargaining chip to force Biden into geopolitical concessions:

The Chinese government had already indicated that it would not cooperate on climate without Washington's willingness to first accept Beijing's own conditions.

“China is ready to cooperate with the United States and the international community on climate change,” China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said [on January 28, the day after Kerry and Blinken talked tough on China]. ‘That said, I would like to stress that China-U.S. cooperation in specific areas ... is closely linked with bilateral relations as a whole. China has emphasized time and again that no one should imagine they can ask China to understand and support them in bilateral and global matters when they blatantly interfere in China’s domestic affairs and undermine China’s interests.’

He urged the Biden administration to create ‘favorable conditions’ for cooperation. The phrase is perceived by observers to mean an acceptance or tolerance of Beijing’s controversial domestic policies, including its widely reported human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, as well as its quashing of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Despite tough talk from Biden and company, the evidence so far indicates the president, with his near-monomaniacal focus on fighting climate change, is already well down the road to giving China more power over the United States. If Biden wants to make the kind of progress on climate change he says he does, his administration will surely have to tone down substantially its rhetoric and actions on what China considers private, internal affairs. This would be bad for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, the Uighurs, U.S. patent holders, and workers in the United States and in China (which has few, if any environmental, health, or labor restrictions on mining and manufacturing).

Worst of all, this reticence would diminish the United States’ moral standing as the world’s leader in defending individual liberty and fundamental human rights from political oppression.

—    H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: New York Post; Vox; The Wall Street Journal; Eurasia Review; Newsweek; Reuters; Powermag; Bloomberg


IN THIS ISSUE …

GLACIER GROWTH CONFOUNDS CLIMATE CLAIMS … CANADA NOT WARMING AS MODELS PROJECT … CONTRA BIDEN/KERRY, GREEN JOBS DON’T REPLACE FOSSIL FUEL JOBS


GLACIER GROWTH CONFOUNDS CLIMATE CLAIMS

Two recent studies show glacier growth in Pakistan is confounding climate models’ projections that glaciers should be declining across the region.

A study published in the journal Remote Sensing in 2020 found glaciers are surging in the Central Kunlun Mountain Range. In particular, several Bukatage Massif glaciers have both lengthened and thickened in recent years. Ground measurements and satellite images show, for example, the Monomah Glacier, the largest in the Bukatage Massif, grew substantially between 2009 and late 2016, with the area it covered growing by 2.42 square miles and its length increasing by .56 miles.

More recently, research published in February in the journal Geomorphology shows the Shisper Glacier in the Karakoram region of Pakistan has also surged in recent years. Satellite images show between February 2018 and September 2019 the snout, or terminus (the front edge), of the Shisper Glacier advanced by a little over .65 miles.

These glaciers are growing despite alarmists’ projections they should be declining. Alarmists have also been wrong about growing ice and snowpack in Antarctica.

These glaciers are growing in a region the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in 2007 would be devoid of ice by 2035. The IPCC had to walk back the claim of declining Himalayan glaciers after scientists doing research in the field pointed out the data indicated no rapid glacial decline was occurring. The IPCC was forced to admit its projection of glacier decline came from an interview with a scientist citing claims made by an environmental group, not from data contained in the peer-reviewed literature.

SOURCES: Remote Sensing; Geomorphology; Scientific American


CANADA NOT WARMING AS MODELS PROJECT

Measured temperatures in Canada over three decades were significantly lower than those projected by climate models, Roy Spencer, Ph.D., principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, found. Spencer recently compared observed surface temperatures in Canada from 1991 through 2020, with 108 simulations from approximately 20 different climate models.

Spencer writes, “Canada has been warming at only 50 percent the rate of the average of the … models; the linear trends are +0.23 C/decade and +0.49 C/decade, respectively. Note that in 7 of the last 8 years, the observations have been below the average of the models.”

In fact, approximately 93.5 percent of the model simulations projected warmer temperature trends than have been measured.

Spencer goes on to note the results for the Canadian comparison are consistent “with the results I have found in the Midwest U.S. in the summertime, where the [previous generation of] models warm, on average, 4 times faster than the observations (since 1970), and 6 times faster in a limited number of the newer [climate model] model simulations.”

SOURCE: Dr. Roy Spencer


CONTRA BIDEN/KERRY, GREEN JOBS DON’T REPLACE FOSSIL FUEL JOBS

President Joe Biden and federal climate envoy John Kerry have said Biden’s recently signed executive orders (EO) on climate will create more, better-paying, green energy jobs than they will destroy in the fossil-fuel industry—statements which even media allies of the president are saying are untrue.

Kerry said, for example, the coal, gas, and oil workers whom Biden’s EOs are forcing out of their jobs will have “better choices” and can “go to work to make the solar panels.”

The Washington Post gave Kerry’s statements “two Pinocchios,” a rating indicating Kerry’s statements represent “a great example of how some ‘facts’ can be misleading when taken out of context.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 10,400 new wind turbine technician and solar panel installer jobs will be created. During the same time period, Biden’s climate policies are expected to put out of work more than 50,000 workers in the coal industry and tens of thousands more in the oil and gas industries.

Also, wind and solar jobs don’t pay as well as jobs associated with fossil fuel production. The median annual wage for coal miners in 2019 was $59,000. This is $8,000 above the average annual national private sector salary of $51,000. BLS data show the median wage for solar installers in 2019 was approximately $45,000 ($6,000 below the national average), and the median wage for wind technicians was $53,000 per year.

The pay differential between solar and wind jobs and those in the oil and gas industry is even greater. The U.S. Department of Energy reports oil and gas industry jobs pay $112,000 per year on average—more than double the average salary of a wind technician and 148 percent higher than solar installers are paid.

Biden said his executive order mandating an all-electric-powered federal vehicle fleet will create “one million new jobs in the American automobile industry. One million.” The Associated Press (AP) said Biden’s claim was false and relied on “fuzzy math,” concluding Biden’s policies “probably will mean fewer net auto-making jobs.”

As American automakers shift to making more electric vehicles, they will be building fewer gasoline-powered cars and trucks. Instead of creating new jobs, the industry will simply shift workers from assembling vehicles with internal combustion engines to cars and trucks with large battery packs.

However, as Kristin Dziczek, a vice president at the Center for Automotive Research, explained to the AP, because “electric vehicles generally have 30 percent to 40 percent fewer parts and are simpler to build, fewer workers will be needed to assemble them.” In addition, it is easier to automate battery pack construction and installation, meaning robotic machinery will replace many workers on the shop floor.

Also, the jobs remaining after Biden’s electric vehicle plan comes to fruition will pay less. The AP discovered “automakers pay workers who assemble batteries less than they pay those who manufacture vehicles.”

Biden’s real climate policy legacy will be fewer workers, making less money annually than they did before, while prices for energy and automobiles rise.

SOURCES: Bureau of Labor Statistics; The Federalist; The Washington Post; NY Post; Associated Press

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
Heartland's James Taylor Talks Biden Energy and Climate Plans on C-SPAN's Washington Journal