China emitted more carbon dioxide than any other country in 2019—nearly double that of the United States. This week Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst for energy in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, talks about what climate game China is playing and why the U.S. needs to keep its eyes wide open.
Michelle Cordero: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Michelle Cordero, and this is Heritage Explains. The Biden administration has made a big deal about their new commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, marrying it with trillions in climate spending and regulatory proposals in the American Jobs Plan.
Clip: It was one of his first acts as president. Joe Biden is already following through on his pledge to fight climate change, issuing an executive order rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.
Clip: President Biden signed an executive order to bring the U.S. back to what he says is "the number one issue facing humanity."
President Biden: My attempt was to make sure that the world could see there was a consensus that we are at an inflection point in history. The consensus is if we act to save the planet we can create millions of jobs and economic growth and opportunity to raise the standard of living to almost everyone around the world.
Cordero: Under the agreement, the United States is committing to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 to keep global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius. But Heritage expert Katie Tubb says that while the United States is spending trillions China is in the background popping all of the party balloons.
Cordero: Here are some trends in China that Americans should know. China emitted more carbon dioxide than any country in 2019, nearly doubling that of the United States. China now ranks number one globally for consumption and production of coal, second for oil consumption, and third for natural gas consumption. In fact, in 2020 China's coal fleet grew by 30 gigawatts while global capacity fell.
Katie Tubb: They are one of the largest coal producers in the world. They're also one of the largest coal consumers in the world. And they finance billions of dollars of coal consumption around the globe. So not only are they themselves a user, they are encouraging or helping other countries do the same. And I want to be careful not to demonize coal production. You know, it's an affordable, reliable source of energy. But if you're coming to a global climate agreement and you're saying one thing but doing another, it raises a lot of questions.
Cordero: That's Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst in Heritage's Roe Institute. Tubb recently wrote an op-ed that inspired today's episode. After this short break, she'll explain what climate game China is playing and why the United States needs to keep its eyes wide open.
Cordero: Katie, thank you so much for joining us.
Tubb: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.
Cordero: So where does the Paris Climate Accord stand right now? Is America back in the deal?
Tubb: America is back in the deal. The Biden administration made that as one of their very first actions out of the gate this January. It remains to be seen what exactly the Biden administration will implement as far as reaching its goals for 50 to 52% reductions in emissions by 2030. But the framework is now there and the U.S. is back in.
Cordero: Okay. So of the countries in this deal, who emits the most carbon dioxide?
Tubb: Far and away, it's China. China produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country. And in fact, it's about double what the U.S. emits.
Cordero: Okay. So as a part of that deal, how much carbon has China committed to cutting?
Tubb: Well, they've created for themselves a very loose agreement under the Paris protocol. They've committed to maxing out their greenhouse gases by around 2030. And when I say around 2030 those are the exact words that the Chinese government has used. So they're not even making very firm commitments. They're just promising to promise that they will reduce emissions by a certain date.
Cordero: So you said maxing out their emissions and we referenced your op-ed earlier on in this program. There's a difference there between reducing carbon dioxide and maxing out carbon dioxide emissions. What does the wording mean specifically?
Tubb: That's a great distinction to make. So the U.S. has committed to actually reducing emissions and that requires a lot of cuts across different sectors of the economy, for better or worse or regardless of what you think of the merits of that approach. China has instead committed to continue growing and continue emitting, and then at around 2030 they have committed to reach peak emissions and then begin deescalating their emissions. So they're on a trajectory to continue growing and emitting greater amounts of greenhouse gas.
Cordero: So basically they're just like, "We're just going to keep doing this, and then we'll pause when we hit at a certain point."
Tubb: Right. Right.
Cordero: Wow. Okay. So I guess that sort of answers my next question, which was how does that compare with what the United States is promising? What are the percentages that we're promising and how large are those?
Tubb: So the Biden administration has committed the U.S. to 50 to 52% emissions reductions based on a 2005 level, so that's actual cuts. And to your point in comparison with China, they've committed to cutting nothing. And they've given themselves plenty of wiggle room to adjust the definition of around 2030.
Cordero: Right. All right. On another issue then. Across the United States, there's a huge push to end coal mining. Is China doing that?
Tubb: Oh, absolutely not. They are one of the largest coal producers in the world. They're also one of the largest coal consumers in the world. And they finance billions of dollars of coal consumption around the globe. So not only are they themselves a user, they are encouraging or helping other countries do the same. And I want to be careful not to demonize coal production. You know, it's an affordable, reliable source of energy. But if you're coming to a global climate agreement and you're saying one thing but doing another, it raises a lot of questions.
Cordero: Yeah. So clearly China isn't playing by the rules here and this isn't new. Tell us why it matters so much.
Tubb: Well, the climate agreements under Paris have significant economic implications. Basically, climate agreements target energy use. And when you increase the cost of energy, you're basically increasing the cost of almost every good and service people engage in. So there's significant economic implications, both on a macro level but also for just families and individuals and businesses. And so when the Biden administration is committing to huge cuts in greenhouse gases, it's going to have an economic impact. When China pretends they're going to make significant climate reductions and then doesn't, that has impacts on global economies and the competitiveness of American businesses and families.
Cordero: Yeah. That's a big deal. So it's not just implications for what it means about China keeping its promises, but it also affects all of our pocketbooks...
Cordero: ... and wallets.
Cordero: Okay. So in your op-ed you say that we need to inject some realism into the climate debate. What do you mean by that?
Tubb: You know, I think a lot of this has to do with coming to a diplomatic situation with our eyes wide open. China is playing almost a completely different game. And the Biden administration I think has tried to come at this as a well-intended actor and assuming that China will meet them halfway. And I don't think that's realistic. You know, China may talk that way, but again when you look at the data, the facts on the ground, the trends of how they're pursuing huge growth with climate implications, you shouldn't walk into that naively. And so I think there's a number of ways you can get at that problem. One is not fooling ourselves that we can impact global temperatures without China. And then consequently, maybe we shouldn't be implementing such massive climate policies in the U.S. that will hurt our economic abilities, hurt our families and businesses. So I think that's one way to look at realism and bringing realism into the conversation.
Tubb: Another way is to call China out. You know, an issue that is ongoing both in the climate area but just generally, China has not been transparent about their own data, whether we're talking about greenhouse gas emissions or particulate matter or economic projections, and so it would be great if the Biden administration used this opportunity to leverage for better transparency into China's own numbers. You know, China has frequently cooked the books, and it'd be nice to use this to get at that bigger problem of data transparency.
Cordero: That makes a lot of sense. All right, in conclusion, just to flip this on its head a little bit and come at it from the other perspective, the left would argue that even if China isn't holding their end of the agreement that the United States should still be doing its part in the Paris Climate Agreement. What's your response to that?
Tubb: You know, I think it kind of gets back to this idea of climate realism. John Kerry, who is the special climate envoy for the Biden administration, has said multiple times that the U.S. and the industrialized world could turn off CO2 emissions tomorrow and it would have no impact on global temperatures by the end of the century. So we need to take that into account and consider that when we're building energy and environment policies in the U.S. that have huge economic implications.
Tubb: If everything we do here will have no impact on global temperatures, we shouldn't be impoverishing Americans. We should be looking for other solutions. And I think a way to do that is to start thinking about a robust, innovative, free enterprise approach that allows entrepreneurs in the U.S. to innovate our way out of this issue and then send that technology and innovation out to the world so that has implications for tax policy and trade policy. How do we make U.S. innovative engine, which is entrepreneurs, take this problem head on and then export it to the world, rather than pursuing heavy-handed and bureaucratic approaches to tamp down emissions that will have no impact on global temperatures by the end of the century?
Cordero: Katie, thanks so much for joining us and shedding light on China and this really important issue.
Tubb: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you, Michelle.
Cordero: And that's it for this week's episode of Heritage Explains. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next week.