US secretary of state Antony Blinken has cast renewable energy investment as imperative to America’s rivalry with China days ahead of a White House climate summit where Washington’s leaders hope to reassert global influence on climate policy.
The top US diplomat warned America is “falling behind” in the green economy, noting in remarks on Monday that China holds nearly a third of the world’s renewable energy patents and is the world’s largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles.
“It’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the long-term strategic competition with China if we cannot lead the renewable energy revolution,” he said.
The comments underlined the stakes for the world’s two largest economies in responding to the climate crisis. China’s president Xi Jinping has said the country would reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 as Beijing vies to be seen as a leader in global climate negotiations.
The Biden administration has said it seeks to “re-enter the climate fight”, with a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, following four years during which the Trump administration pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord and rolled back rules designed to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
Blinken said that if the US did not catch up in clean-energy investment, “America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people”.
President Joe Biden, who brought the US back into the Paris accord on his first day in office, is preparing to host 40 world leaders in a virtual climate summit on Thursday and Friday to discuss strengthening emissions targets ahead of the UN’s COP26 climate conference in November.
John Kerry, US climate envoy, agreed a pledge with Beijing at the weekend under which the two countries will together combat climate change, despite rising tensions between the world powers.
But the US and China are tussling over a number of other geopolitical issues and this week’s summit is also part of an effort to showcase Biden’s new green policies as his administration seeks ammunition for what it sees as long-term competition with the Asian country.
Blinken pushed the economic case for switching to a greener economy, pointing out the value of the global renewable energy market is projected to reach $2.15tn by 2025.
“That’s over 35 times the size of the current market for renewables in the US,” he said, adding that roles for solar and wind technicians were among the fastest-growing sectors of the jobs market in America.
The US Treasury said earlier on Monday it would appoint a climate counsellor, John Morton, to co-ordinate the efforts of a new climate hub focused on leveraging finance to confront the threat of climate change.
“Finance and financial incentives will play a crucial role in addressing the climate crisis at home and abroad and in providing capital for opportunities to transform the economy,” said Janet Yellen, Treasury secretary.
Blinken urged other countries to take drastic action, saying that even if the US achieved net-zero emissions overnight, “we’ll lose the fight against climate change if we can’t address the more than 85 per cent of emissions coming from the rest of the world”.
He also hinted the US was prepared to push back against the policies of other countries that were undercutting climate change goals. Although he did not name any countries, his remarks over coal and deforestation appeared to be aimed at China and Brazil, respectively.
“Our diplomats will challenge the practices of countries whose action — or inaction — is setting the world back,” he said. “When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal factories, or allow for massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how harmful these actions are.”
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