China wants the United States to do more to help developing nations combat climate change and to make sure the Paris agreement on greenhouse gases is enforced.
"I believe the U.S. government can do better," said Xie Zhenhua, China's special representative on climate change, told Bloomberg. In particular, Mr. Zhenhua said the US could transfer technologies to help developing countries and fund their efforts to curb climate change and extreme weather events. "As the largest developed country in the world, the U.S. has done a lot in climate change and needs to be recognized. But at the same time, of course, there [is] a lot more work to do," he said.
In 2010, the US and China disagreed about how to handle climate change, while Republican politicians opposed environmental agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, targeted at reducing fossil fuel pollution. Eventually, President Obama and Zhenhua helped re-establish climate talks at the United Nations level, which resulted in the Paris deal, an agreement among more than 190 countries pledging to reduce fossil fuel emissions and take tangible steps to curb climate change and global warming.
"We have to make good on the agreement that we reached last December," said US Secretary of State John Kerry. "The key is to make sure we bring this agreement into force this year."
Previous climate summits compelled developed countries to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries build zero-carbon energy systems and adapt to climate impacts. Many of the poorest nations had hoped to see that figure scaled up significantly and codified in international law in Paris. They note that it is the developed world – including the US, Canada, and Europe – that has contributed by far the most to current CO2 concentrations. It is also the developed world that is best equipped to transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy.
The Paris Agreement falls short on these fronts. It sets $100 billion as a floor for future climate finance, but offers no specific targets above that. What's more, the portions of the text on finance appear in the non-binding 'decision' portion, as opposed to the binding 'agreement.' "
Zhenhuan's comments then are likely part of role China sees for itself as a champion of poorer nations.
Zhenhuan has recognized the US government's own efforts so far. The US has pledged to reduce emissions by 26 percent, from 2005 levels, to a total of 28 percent in 2025.
However, while China wants more help from the US to combat environmental threats, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has expressed doubts about the validity of the science that proves climate change.
And as one of the world's biggest polluters, is China in a position to put any serious pressure on the American government?
China and the US are the world's two largest carbon-emitting nations, their citizens are among those least concerned in a global poll about public attitudes on climate change, reports the Pew Research Center. In the US only about half of Republicans polled consider it a concern.
In China, which is heavily reliant on coal, public attitudes reflect not only the issue of climate change more broadly, but also the high pollution levels in the country's highly populated cities, causing a public health risk.
China's carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2014, which was the same year President Xi Jinping promised President Obama that they would peak in 2030. In China, the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter, coal accounts for more than 75 percent of its energy consumption.
Zhenhua, however, has said that China's carbon emissions did not peak and will rise by 2030, indicating that China has until its deadline to fully use up its days left of burning coal, Reuters reported.
"I would be more confident to say that China has reached a plateau or period of low growth," scientist Glen Peters at the Center of International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo told The New York Times. "I think to say 'peak' is a little bold." Nonetheless, many agree that whether or not China has actually peaked, it's well on its way to its 2030 limit.