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On October 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) in China issued two documents criticising the US on its track record on environmental and climate policies, saying that under President Trump, the US “is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker,” compromising international environment cooperation. 

In a fact sheet, the Ministry blamed Trump’s “negative stance” and “retrogression on climate change” for undermining progress on the Paris Agreement, which the US will officially withdraw from on November 4, the day after its presidential election. Beijing added that Trump had “seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance.”

Besides the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the two documents, called “A List of Facts on the Environmental Damages of the US” and “Report on the US’s Destruction of Global Environmental Governance,” outlined other issues, including present and historical carbon emissions, arrears on payments to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, failure to ratify the Convention on Biodiversity, deforestation and desertification and poor management of chemicals and waste. It also criticised Trump for rolling back nearly 70 domestic policies and failing to honour the US agreement to pay its share of Green Climate Fund contributions. It said the US accounts for 95.7% of total international arrears to the fund. 

“America’s conduct on the issue of the environment is already beyond explaining to American citizens, and the people of the world are owed an explanation,” the Ministry said. 

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This came after the US issued “China’s Environmental Abuses Face Sheet” on September 25, which said that Beijing “threatens the global economy and global health by unsustainably exploiting natural resources and exporting its wilful disregard for the environment through its One Belt One Road initiative.” The fact sheet from the US also criticised other climate policies from China, including its dams on the Mekong River, marine debris, plastic product waste, illegal logging, mercury emissions and air quality.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on wilful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people- and the world- deserve better.”

Speaking to the Washington Post, James Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s global energy centre, said of the Chinese report, “This seems like a reminder that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. We put out a statement attacking their environmental record and they put out an even stronger one, and the Trump administration has given them a lot to work with.” 

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, but its emissions per capita are half that of the US’ and its population is five times as big.

Joanna Lewis, director of Georgetown University’s science, technology and international affairs programme, said, “China’s fact sheet on US damage to the environment is a slap in the face for a country that normally prides itself on its environmental leadership. It demonstrates how the US has lost almost all of its moral high ground when it comes to engaging with China and other emerging economies on the environment and climate change in particular.”

She adds, “While China’s environmental record is highly problematic, the country has made impressive gains in many areas while the current U.S. administration continues to roll back many hard-won environmental protection laws.”

While China and US have criticised each other on human rights, trade and the expulsion of diplomats and reporters, climate policies have tended to escape this national competition and rivalry, but Trump has adopted an attitude of hostility towards China throughout his presidency, and relations between the two countries have only worsened since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Greenpeace climate negotiations analyst Li Shuo took to Twitter, saying that “this represents the bilateral war of words extending to a new area. Will this US bashing continue after the election? We will see.”

During President Barack Obama’s presidency, he managed to get China to support broad policies to slow the growth in greenhouse gases and shift the Chinese economy toward renewable sources of energy. 

A cordial US-China relationship depends on the results of the US presidential election, with a potential Biden presidency looking to re-engage with China on the climate crisis. However, the MoFA’s tone in these documents is concerning. Following China’s surprise announcement that it will aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, this could be seen as MoFA’s attempt to capitalise on the reputational gains of it. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has picked Senator Kamala Harris of California to be his running mate. Harris beat out a long list of qualified women for the spot — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former national security adviser Susan Rice, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and others were in the running. Biden’s decision to pick a woman of color sends the signal that the former vice president is serious about issues of racial and gender inequity … and about energizing voters who care deeply about representation. What does his decision mean for climate and environmental policy in a Biden administration?

Harris — formerly the district attorney for the city of San Francisco and the attorney general of California — has been known to be somewhat of a political chameleon. Her once-promising presidential campaign failed in part because of Harris’s inability to nail down her political ideology. But, over time, the Democrat has become increasingly firm in her commitment to one particular issue: environmental justice.

Kamala Harris and the Green New Deal

When Kamala Harris was running for president in 2019, she released a climate plan that put environmental justice front and center. Last July, she and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York unveiled a plan to introduce climate legislation in Congress that would ensure new environmental regulations and legislation get evaluated through an environmental justice lens before becoming law. Last week, the two Democrats made good on that plan by formally introducing legislation called the Climate Equity Act. The act would set up a new Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget.

A week prior to that announcement, Harris introduced another piece of climate legislation in the Senate: a companion bill to the Environmental Justice for All Act introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives by Democrats A. Donald McEachin of Virginia and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. In an email interview with Grist ahead of the introduction of that bill, the senator explained why environmental justice is so important to her. “Our country is in the midst of multiple crises,” Harris told Grist:

“First, there’s the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus that has killed over 148,000 people. It disproportionately affects Black and brown people in part due to the high frequency of pre-existing conditions like asthma and high blood pressure. These can stem from decades of toxic pollution being dumped in communities of color and which place people at higher risk of complications. Meanwhile, there is the continuing crisis of systemic racism in America that people of color have known and experienced for generations. All of these things intersect, and we must center the fight for environmental justice in the broader conversation.”

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Harris’ commitment to this kind of work dates back to her days as a district attorney. In 2005, she created a mini version of the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability she’s proposing now within the San Francisco district attorney’s office. “Crimes against the environment are crimes against communities, people who are often poor and disenfranchised,” she said at the time.

In short, she’s got a good record on justice that’s getting better and better. That could serve Biden well as he continues to hash out his climate plans in the months leading up to the election. He’s already introduced a more comprehensive and equitable version of his initial climate plan and sought input from an array of formal and informal climate advisors from many different corners of the climate movement, including environmental justice advocates. Kamala Harris will no doubt continue to steer his campaign in a justice-friendly direction. She also supports abolishing the filibuster, a step that will likely be necessary to get any climate or environmental policy through Congress in a Biden administration.

Harris isn’t quite a climate activist’s dream. She was one of the last Democrats running for president to release a climate plan last year, lagging far behind other candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee. Her plan did not include a full ban on fracking unlike some of her competitors’ plans, and she has taken donations from the fossil fuel industry in the past, though she did take a vow not to accept donations from fossil fuel companies this election cycle.

But Harris’s proximity to rising temperatures may be another indication that the senator would take climate change seriously as vice president. Kamala Harris is the first person from a state west of Texas to appear on a Democratic presidential ticket, and she has come up against the effects of climate change firsthand in California, where wildfires, rising sea levels, and drought are near-constant sources of concern. As a result, her state has become a leader of the charge to tackle rising emissions in the United States. Let’s hope Harris brings a little bit of that urgency to the ticket.

Featured image by: Gage Skidmore

This story originally appeared in Grist, written by Zoya Teirstein, and is republished here as a part of Earth.Org’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a UN body founded in 1988 that evaluates science on the climate crisis. It has 195 Member States and it was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on the climate crisis, its potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation recommendations. 

The IPCC produces major reports every five years, but does not conduct its own research. Rather, it selects hundreds of scientists from around the world to prepare them. These scientists evaluate scientific literature as well as government and industry reports to develop a comprehensive analysis of the state of the climate crisis. Once put together by experts, the reports are reviewed line-by-line in plenary sessions by UN member states, who must then unanimously approve them. 

The IPCC has so far produced five reports. The most recent one discusses living on a planet with 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius of global warming and its implications on land, oceans and icy places. 

It also produces Special Reports on topics agreed to by its member governments, as well as Methodology Reports that provide guidelines for the preparation of greenhouse gas inventories.

To deliver these reports, the IPCC holds meetings of its government representatives, convening as plenary sessions of the Panel of IPCC Working Groups to approve, adopt and accept reports. Plenary Sessions of the IPCC also determine the IPCC work program, and other businesses including its budget and outlines of reports. The IPCC Bureau meets regularly to provide guidance to the Panel on scientific aspects of its work. 

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Working Groups and Task Force

IPCC assessments and Special Reports are prepared by three Working Groups, each analysing a different aspect of the climate crisis: Working Group I (The Physical Science Basis), Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) and Working Group III (Mitigation of Climate Change). 

There is also a Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, whose main objective is to develop and refine a methodology for the calculation of and reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions and removals. 

The Working Groups and Task Force handle the preparation of reports and select and manage the experts working on them as authors. 

The panel does not tell governments what to do, but rather assesses possible solutions. Their conclusions are not predictions of the future, but rather projections based on different warming scenarios. 

What is the Mission Statement of the IPCC?

In the scientific community, the IPCC’s reports are broadly viewed as the most comprehensive and reliable assessment of the climate crisis. In fact, in 2007, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Professor Paul Edwards, historian and professor of information at Michigan University, wrote in his book that the “IPCC draft reports undergo more scrutiny than any other documents in the history of science.” 

Featured image by: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Without external intervention, firms and individuals have little incentive to reduce their carbon emissions, as having liberty to pollute and sustain higher levels of production and consumption would, in the company’s perspective, provide private benefits which outweigh costs incurred by society. To encourage accountability, carbon emissions can be priced through either a carbon tax or carbon trading, (referred to as ‘cap-and-trade’ programs), the latter of which will be discussed here.

‘Cap-and-trade’ is a system where a specified level of total emissions is targeted, followed by allocation of emissions permits across various polluting firms. Companies polluting above their assigned quotas must then purchase additional permits from other firms with excess emission capacity. Theoretically, this imposes hard limits on total pollution within an economy, while providing financial incentives for companies to explore operational processes which are less detrimental to the environment. Such a system is not constrained to carbon emissions alone- in fact, its proponents often cite the historic success of sulphur dioxide trading in the USA. Following the inception of the Clean Air Act in 1990, the emissions trading scheme has reportedly generated USD$122billion of annual benefits by reducing death and illness while improving the health of ecosystems, which greatly outweighs the USD$3billion cost of utilities. Today, carbon trading can be found in over 50 jurisdictions around the globe, including the EU and Australia, with other major economies like China seeking to implement similar programs.

While ‘cap-and-trade’ offers the theoretical certainty of emissions reduction, its practical implementation has achieved mixed results. In the EU, participating institutions managed to reduce their carbon emissions by only 0.4% within 5 years. Major criticisms have arisen over the prevalence of speculative trading and fraud, which fuel extreme fluctuations in carbon prices, making it difficult for affected firms to determine their long-term returns from investments in reducing carbon intensity. Effectiveness of the scheme has been further undermined by plummeting prices of emissions permits, essentially making it cheaper to pollute. Fortunately, neither of these weaknesses are inherent in ‘cap-and-trade’ models. Trading of permits can be directly regulated by central banks, such that only authorised firms can buy and sell them at a minimum specified price, while emissions permits issued are gradually reduced over time based on environmental sustainability targets. This could prevent situations where prices are too low to disincentive pollution, while preserving market stability. Moving forward, carbon trading should encompass more industries, so that its impact can be further amplified. 

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what is carbon trading
Volatility of EU carbon prices (Source: Ember Climate).

Beyond pricing issues alone, carbon trading has several other characteristics which portray it more negatively than taxation. 

Firstly, taxation is more straightforward to implement and sustain, making it less difficult to exploit loopholes in the market. Secondly, being removed from market fluctuations means that carbon can have complete price stability, allowing companies to evaluate their investments in energy-saving technology with greater certainty of its returns. So long as any periodic increases in carbon taxation are announced several years in advance, this advantage over ‘cap-and-trade’ should generally hold true. Finally, unlike its counterpart, carbon trading does not provide the government with revenue, which could be used to subsidise less profitable clean infrastructural projects. 

Despite these seeming drawbacks, the viability of each system is ultimately dependent on prevailing political or economic conditions. Overall, widespread implementation of either carbon pricing method would prove immensely beneficial compared to the current status-quo, hence are worth supporting in the fight against global warming.

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