Biden's US back on the world stage with climate summits and naval exercises

·4-min read

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, is currently visiting Asia for consultations on "increasing climate ambition". The trip paves the way for President Joe Biden’s Leaders' Summit on Climate in three weeks, and the UN Convention on Climate Change later this year. US military movements in the region are on the increase as well.

Kerry's Asia tour and the US climate summit serve as a follow-up to the Climate Ambition Summit, held online in December 2020 that outlined plans to reach "net zero emissions" by 2050.

The ideas were further developed in a roadmap published by the International Energy Agency in January. And the most important climate change event of the year, the Conference of the Parties (COP26), will be held in Glasgow from 1 to 12 November.

Kerry started his trip by attending the UAE-hosted Regional Dialogue for Climate Action in Abu Dhabi, attended by representatives from Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq and Sudan. A joint statement promised to work towards goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is facing calls from the United States and Britain to commit the vast country, the world's third biggest carbon emitter, to the 2050 net-zero emission target. But, reports the Times of India, that country's "per capita emissions are way lower than those of the US, European countries and even China," giving rise to concerns that "binding itself to such a target could constrain the energy needs of the people".

Critical risk

Meanwhile, Bangladesh, Kerry's last stop, is currenty chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF,) a group of the 48 countries most affected by climate change, including founding member Maldives, the Indian Ocean island state that is at critical risk as global warming causes sea levels to rise.

Kerry's climate diplomacy is a preparation for the Leaders' Summit on Climate, to be hosted by Joe Biden on April 22 and 23. According to a White House announcement, 40 world leaders are invited to take part in the virtual meeting, including China's predident Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of the main goals of the US summit and "Glasgow" will be "to limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change," a goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change that was abandonned by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump who said that it "undermined US competitiveness and jobs."

Is climate the sole talking point with China?

With Kerry's trip and the upcoming Biden meeting, Washington indicates that the US is solidly back in the global fight against climate change. At the same time, climate policy is about the only issue on which Washington agrees with its main global rival, China.

Speaking at a press conference, Kerry, who served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, said that the US was hopeful it could work with China to tackle climate change, despite longstanding disagreements that have affected the bilateral relationship.

“President Biden has made it clear and I’ve made it clear: none of the other issues we have with China -- and there are issues -- is held hostage to or is engaged in a trade for what we need to do on climate.”

Naval exercises with France

But while Washington tries to engage China in discussions on climate, the US and its allies are staging large-scale naval exercises involving some of the countries Kerry is visiting.

Under French auspices, the naval exercise La Perouse is being held between April 5 and 7 in the Bay of Bengal, a prepartion for a series of massive operations involving carrier strike groups, anti-submarine aircraft and attack submarines which will see French warships linking up with members of the "Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)" an alliance consisting of the US, India, Japan and Australia, set up to counter growing Chinese power in the region.

While being ridiculed as a "publicity stunt" by China's Global Times, the naval exercises serve as a warning to Beijing, which has shown an increasing assertiveness in the region.

There have been a record number of incursions into Taiwan's airspace, and the occupation of vast stretches of sea, which are either in international waters or rightfully claimed by other countries.

There has also been international criticism of Beijing's limiting of Hong Kong's democratic freedoms and its treatment of Muslim Uyghurs.

Perhaps climate change remains as the sole point of common ground between Washington and Beijing.