In Tackling Climate Change, U.S. Should Have Some Skin in the Game


 Whether a person or a country can win the respect of others depends not only on what has been said, but more on what has been done. It is a simple truth that actions speak louder than words.

The United States, which intends to reestablish its leadership on climate, has failed to make the contributions commensurate with its role as the largest economy and No. 1 historical polluter. Instead, U.S. spin doctors have prescribed bitter remedies for other countries while refusing a taste of their own medicine.

Recently, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry called for China and other “large economies” to contribute to a loss and damage fund for climate-hit countries, which Kerry himself described as a humanitarian donation.

Yet about two months ago, the former secretary of state told a Congress hearing that the U.S. will, “under no circumstances, pay climate reparations to developing countries hit by climate-driven disasters,” which is its clear historical responsibility.

This skinflint needs to overcome its selective amnesia and put some skin in the game.

As the largest emitter among developed countries, the U.S. has set a bad example in dealing with climate issues by signing but not ratifying many multilateral environmental treaties, and refusing to meet climate financing and green technology transfer commitments.

Such irresponsible attitudes and inaction are bound to arouse discontent and protests from developing nations of the Global South. In his speech at last week’s G20 Summit in India, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged those who historically contributed the most to global warming to bear the greatest costs of combating it.

Coincidentally, just ahead of the first Africa Climate Summit earlier this month, UN resident coordinator in Kenya Stephen Jackson called for the developed world to deliver on promises to reduce their own emissions and provide financing for dealing with the impact of climate change.

According to a study published in Nature Sustainability in June, Global North countries hold “overwhelming responsibility” for climate breakdown and could be liable to pay 170 trillion U.S. dollars in compensation by 2050 to ensure climate targets are met, with the U.S. holding the single largest climate debt of around 80 trillion dollars.

However, the developed world has remained largely passive in providing financial and technical support to developing countries, even failing to make good on the 100-billion-dollar-a-year promise of climate finance committed in the Copenhagen Accords.

China holds a consistent position on climate issues. All parties should shoulder their common but differentiated responsibilities. Developed countries should take the lead in reducing emissions and fulfill their financial commitments as soon as possible while developing countries should make contributions within their means. The world’s largest developing country pledges to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

As a latecomer to industrialization, China faces multiple challenges and huge costs to achieve this goal, but China has steadfastly followed through on its commitment, and to many observers, it is now a key force driving the global clean energy transition.

Having wantonly burned through the world’s carbon budget, the U.S. should stop using climate issues to smear and pressure China, which has spent the past decades fulfilling its population’s basic needs.

The UN has warned of the arrival of an era of “global boiling” as the planet has its first real taste of life at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times this summer. It’s time that the selfish “America first” mindset in climate talks should be abandoned, as should the stance that “the American way of life is not up for negotiation,” as declared by George Bush Sr. at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Fine words butter no parsnips. The upcoming Dubai COP28 in late November may offer a chance for the U.S. to put forward real actions in the face of this challenge that will determine the very survival of humanity.

After all, with the great specter of climate change bearing down upon us, we have neither a new planet nor a plan B.