Kamala Harris at climate summit: World must ‘fight’ those stalling action

DUBAI — The vast, global efforts to arrest rising temperatures are imperiled and must accelerate, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told the world climate summit on Saturday. 

“We must do more,” she implored an audience of world leaders at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai. And the headwinds are only growing, she warned.

“Continued progress will not be possible without a fight,” she told the gathering, which has drawn more than 100,000 people to this Gulf oil metropolis. “Around the world, there are those who seek to slow or stop our progress. Leaders who deny climate science, delay climate action and spread misinformation. Corporations that greenwash their climate inaction and lobby for billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies.” 

Her remarks — less than a year before an election that could return Donald Trump to the White House — challenged leaders to cooperate and spend more to keep the goal of containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. So far, the planet has warmed about 1.3 degrees since preindustrial times.

“Our action collectively, or worse, our inaction will impact billions of people for decades to come,” Harris said.

The vice president, who frequently warns about climate change threats in speeches and interviews, is the highest-ranking face of the Biden White House at the Dubai negotiations.

She used her conference platform to push that image, announcing several new U.S. climate initiatives, including a record-setting $3 billion pledge for the so-called Green Climate Fund, which aims to help countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. The commitment echoes an identical pledge Barack Obama made in 2014 — of which only $1 billion was delivered. The U.S. Treasury Department later specified that the updated commitment was “subject to the availability of funds.”

Meanwhile, back in D.C., the Biden administration strategically timed the release of new rules to crack down on planet-warming methane emissions from the oil and gas sector — a significant milestone in its plan to prevent climate catastrophe.

The trip allows Harris to bolster her credentials on a policy issue critical to the young voters key to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign — and potentially to a future Harris White House run. 

“Given her knowledge base with the issue, her passion for the issue, it strikes me as a smart move for her to broaden that message out to the international audience,” said Roger Salazar, a California political strategist and former aide to then-Vice President Al Gore, a lifetime climate campaigner. 

Yet sending Harris also presents political peril. 

Biden has taken flak from critics for not attending the talks himself after representing the United States at the last two U.N. climate summits since taking office. And climate advocates have questioned the Biden administration’s embrace of the summit’s leader, Sultan al-Jaber, given he also runs the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil giant. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, has argued the partnership can help bring fossil fuel megaliths to the table.

Harris has been on a climate policy roadshow in recent months, discussing the issue during a series of interviews at universities and other venues packed with young people and environmental advocates. The administration said it views Harris — a former California senator and attorney general — as an effective spokesperson on climate. 

“The vice president’s leadership on climate goes back to when she was the district attorney of San Francisco, as she established one of the first environmental justice units in the nation,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call previewing her trip. 

Joining Harris in Dubai are Kerry, White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi and John Podesta, who’s leading the White House effort to implement Biden’s signature climate law. 

Biden officials are leaning on that climate law — dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act — to prove the U.S. is doing its part to slash global emissions. Yet climate activists remain skeptical, chiding Biden for separately approving a series of fossil fuel projects, including an oil drilling initiative in Alaska and an Appalachian natural gas pipeline.

Similarly, the Biden administration’s opening COP28 pledge of $17.5 million for a new international climate aid fund frustrated advocates for developing nations combating climate threats. The figure lagged well behind other allies, several of whom committed $100 million or more.

Nonetheless, Harris called for aggressive action in her speech, which was followed by a session with other officials on renewable energy. The vice president committed the U.S. to doubling its energy efficiency and tripling its renewable energy capacity by 2030, joining a growing list of countries. The U.S. also said Saturday it was joining a global alliance dedicated to divorcing the world from coal-based energy. 

Like other world leaders, Harris also used her trip to conduct a whirlwind of diplomacy over the war between Israel and Hamas, which has flared back up after a brief truce.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Harris would be meeting with “regional leaders” to discuss “our desire to see this pause restored, our desire to see aid getting back in, our desire to see hostages get out.”

The war has intruded into the proceedings at the climate summit, with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas both skipping their scheduled speaking slots on Friday. Iran’s delegation also walked out of the summit, objecting to Israel’s presence.

Kirby said Harris will convey “that we believe the Palestinian people need a vote and a voice in their future, and then they need governance in Gaza that will look after their aspirations and their needs.”

Although Biden won’t be going to Dubai, the administration said these climate talks are “especially” vital, given countries will decide how to respond to a U.N. assessment that found the world’s climate efforts are falling short. 

“This is why the president has made climate a keystone of his administration’s foreign policy agenda,” the senior administration official said.

Robin Bravender reported from Washington, D.C. Zia Weise and Charlie Cooper reported from Dubai. 

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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U.S. Businesses Look To De-Risk, Not Decouple, Their China Ties

What a difference two months makes. Hopes were high in January that U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s scheduled travel to China, the first such visit by America’s top diplomat in years, would give a boost to strained ties between the two countries. China’s economy had started to rev up from the end of its ‘zero-Covid’ policies, giving a lift to its stocks and fortunes.

Then, the appearance of a suspected sky balloon over the U.S. heartland, deepening speculation about possible Beijing arms sales to Russia, and the start of high-profile Congressional hearings this month critical of China have changed the tone. “In the United States, you have a very deep fear about China,” Albright Stonebridge Group Senior Advisor Ken Jarrett said in an interview. “It’s still a relationship defined by rivalry, mistrust, and suspicion,” said the former president American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, U.S. Consul General in Shanghai, and U.S. Deputy Consul General in Hong Kong. His government roles in Washington, D.C. include director of Asian Affairs at the White House National Security Council.

“Certainly in the United States, it feels like the American public doesn’t see much benefit of having a relationship with China. And in China, you have a sense of resentment toward the United States, because of the notion that the United States is trying to hold China back,” Jarrett said. In both countries, the tone is shaped in part by domestic politics, ideological differences and technology competition, he noted. “Nobody talks about the bridges that we should be building.”

And yet business ties between the two countries remain deep and, ironically, may be poised to grow faster this year. “The one thing that hasn’t changed (after the pandemic) is that the level of economic interdependence between the United States and China is still quite deep,” Jarrett said. “Now that China is exiting Covid, you’re going to see this year a real uptick of executive travel to China from headquarters of U.S. companies. This might lead to an increase in investment. Particularly for the larger U.S. multinationals, the view of the importance of the Chinese market hasn’t changed.”

Business interest will be heightened by China’s potential economic growth this year. After its GDP grew by a government-reported 3% in 2022, China is aiming for one of the world’s economic growth rates this year of “around 5%,” according to a report this month by then Premier Li Keqiang. That’s more than three times the growth rate of 1.4% for the American economy projected by the International Monetary Fund.

Just this past week back in the U.S., for instance, President Biden’s clean energy czar John Podesta said Chinese companies will be big players in future U.S. energy production, according to Fox News. At the Nasdaq, Xiao-I, a “leading cognitive artificial intelligence enterprise” backed by Chinese auto billionaire Li Shufu, began trading after amid expectations of a recovery in China listings in the U.S. this year. (See related post here.) Michigan this year has welcomed a hook-up on a $3.5 billion battery plant between Ford and China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology, or CATL, the world’s largest maker of EV batteries. Virginia earlier turned down the project and not everyone else is onboard: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio introduced legislation on Thursday that would block tax credits for EV batteries made with Chinese technology, Reuters reported. Rubio has also called for the Biden administration to review the Ford-CATL agreement, it said. Former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is a member of Ford’s board of directors.

So what’s next for businesses? “Long term, much about China also hasn’t changed. For most, China is still among the top three investment destinations. Its ranking has fallen a bit, yet it is still ranked by multinational companies as an important investment destination,” Jarrett said. Rather than a decoupling, “there is a reappraisal that’s under way.”

More specifically, Jarrett said, there is “de-risking.” “U.S. companies are thinking of ways to rebalance their exposure in China. The one word that you hear a lot about from executives in China is a need to de-risk. This follows specifically from the Russian-Ukraine situation and a mindfulness of the experience of many U.S. companies in Russia” which abandoned the market after the start of Russia invasion of the Ukraine. “They don’t want to face the same kind of situation in China” vis-à-vis Taiwan, “which would be many multiples more painful for them.”

For some companies, Jarrett said, de-risking “is about how to protect yourself, and how to look more local, such as through (having) more partners or investing in Chinese companies,” he said. “Where do you list? Where do you register your intellectual property rights? Where are the vulnerabilities in your supply chain? Do you need backups? Do you need a more of a regional approach to your supply chain?”

“I would argue that we’re not going to have an across-the-board decoupling. There will be selective decoupling. We’ve been seeing that already in areas of sensitive technology, and some shifting around of supply chains that is inevitable.”

U.S. companies will force themselves to grapple with those complexities vis-a-vis China because large parts of its economy still hold business promise: healthcare, pharmaceuticals, the financial industry, food and the consumer, Jarrett noted. Among high-profile American businesses looking to grow, Starbucks in September said in aimed to increase its number of stores in the country from 6,000 to 9,000 by 2025, opening a new shop every nine hours.

Back at home, the U.S. itself won’t succeed vis-à-vis China only by criticizing it, and needs to find its own competitiveness. “We need to be mindful that it’s about the U.S. running faster, as opposed to just trying to trip-up China.” Jarrett said. Though the U.S. discussion of national security is important, there is also a question that needs to be asked: “What do you do to protect pure, legitimate business interests?”

“We continue to be in a very difficult place,” Jarrett said. “It’s hard to be too optimistic, but hopefully, sensible leadership on both sides will help to manage which way this moves.”

See related posts:

Asian IPOs Poised To Increase As Region’s Economics Recover, Nasdaq Vice Chairman Says

U.S. Tops New Asia Power Ranking “Due Largely To China’s Setbacks”


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