Kerry talks tough on China


United States Senator John Kerry delivered a tough message to China today that may have serious implications for their relationship on climate change and even trade. In his speech he asked that actions taken by China on climate change be monitored by outside agents.

‘…we must be able to assure a Senator from Ohio that steel workers in his state won’t lose their jobs to India and China because those countries are not participating in a way that is measurable, reportable and verifiable. Every American – indeed, I think all citizens—need to know that no country will claim an unfair advantage.’

He compared this kind of reporting to existing international efforts to monitor trade and energy saying:

‘There is nothing new or threatening about such transparency.  We have it in nuclear arms agreements and in trade agreements.  Countries have accepted the international rules and enforcement mechanisms of the WTO and flourished, and today we must share with each other, in good faith, our efforts to meet the new standards that come with our international climate commitments.’

Before moving on to issue a not-so-veiled threat to China and other economically advanced developing countries.

‘Once a treaty is in force, countries that fail to make a good faith effort toward reducing emissions will find that they cannot dump high carbon intensity products into our markets. That is a fair response to non-compliance with a binding international agreement.’

Kerry is an author of a bill being debated in the United States Senate. That he would so openly threaten the imposition of carbon tariffs on those who do not act in ‘good faith’ will worry China and indeed many economists. A future carbon-trade war between the United States is not unthinkable.

Kerry went on to reinforce his message that China must do more:

‘Today, there is no excuse for America not to act when we account for just five percent of the world’s population, but 20 percent of its emissions.  By the very same token, when 97 percent of new emissions over the next two decades will come from the developing world, that is more than “an inconvenient truth” in our larger struggle.  It is a core issue.  By 2020 China’s emissions will be 40% larger than America’s.  It is inescapable that ultimately, the only workable way forward will be a global solution where all major emitters take on binding commitments.”

It is incontestable that China will gradually need to take on to do more on climate change if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. But If the US and China are to work together to design and build the clean-technologies we need, good relationships and trust are essential. In this context Kerry’s words may not have been well chosen.