Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is falling behind China in the race to seize opportunities created by climate change, in a speech that cast the challenge of a warming planet as a chance to create more jobs and export American values.
In an address in Maryland on Monday, Blinken said climate change will increasingly be at the center of U.S. foreign policy but vowed that the Biden administration won’t let other countries get away with bad practices such as human rights abuses because they’re making progress on curbing climate change.
The U.S. won’t treat “other countries' progress on climate as a chip they can use to excuse bad behavior in other areas that are important to our national security,” Blinken said. “The Biden-Harris administration is united on this. Climate is not a trading card.”
That argument appeared to be aimed at rebutting growing criticism, particularly from Republican lawmakers, that President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, may trade away U.S. interests in a push for climate cooperation with China. Kerry was in China last week for meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua.
“I’m with John 100% in this effort,” Blinken said of Kerry’s role, calling the former top U.S. diplomat “my friend.”
The challenge of both confronting and keeping up with China will be a central element of U.S. climate policy. Blinken said that the U.S. would miss its chance “to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people” if it doesn’t catch up to China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing Tuesday in Beijing that the U.S. should “reflect on its own human-rights violations in other countries, and not use human rights as a cover to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.”
Blinken called China “the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles.”
Blinken’s speech is the first in a series of events planned ahead of a virtual summit that Biden is hosting starting Thursday that will gather leaders of the world’s biggest polluters to discuss how to address global warming and other climate disasters.
The U.S. is expected to use this week’s summit to unveil its goal for reducing greenhouse gases, a key part of the Paris climate accord that Biden had the U.S. rejoin on his first day in office.
Biden’s emphasis on climate policy follows four years in which former President Donald Trump largely dismissed the issue. Rather than frame climate change solely as an existential threat — Blinken said the top U.S. goal is preventing catastrophe — the administration is also portraying it as a way to drive American innovation, jobs and global influence.
In keeping with the administration’s focus on infrastructure, Blinken said the U.S. will have “a big stake” in how the globe will address a $4.6 trillion infrastructure gap by 2040. Filling that gap will benefit U.S. workers and could help spread transparency and workers’ rights, he argued.
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