Mike Pence’s ‘harsh words’ won’t hurt US climate credibility, China claims

Vice-president faces ridicule from Chinese state media as he returns from Peru to launch US carbon emission reduction programme

Mike Pence’s paltry gesture to the global community in Lima in December will in no way damage America’s climate credibility, it was declared in state media today in China.

“Calling the climate change talks ‘overwhelmingly positive’ was an unfortunate choice of words,” noted the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist party’s mouthpiece. “So was Biden’s huge reassurance to Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US had ‘learned its lesson’.”

Vice-president Pence attends the Climate Change Conference on Climate Change (COP23) in Lima in November. Photograph: Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters

The UN was once again besieged in Lima, the US decided to stay out, despite committing to lower greenhouse gas emissions during Barack Obama’s presidency. Then the US withdrew from the Paris climate change deal last year and now President Donald Trump is planning to withdraw the US from the current climate talks in Poland, too.

In a public rebuke to Trump’s stated plan, Biden on Wednesday launched what will probably be the first of many expressions of remorse from the Trump administration for the climate summit.

“We are going to be walking away from this process,” he said at a speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “We will be walking away from an agreement that was optimistic, that was hopeful, and, I think, was hopeful that we would get more than we did.”

But China, which has maintained its leadership on the world stage despite Washington’s retreat, was not interested in a full-blown public apology.

“America’s stubborn position has harmed the global climate talks and is trampling over the talks’ multilateral principles,” the People’s Daily said in a detailed analysis of the Lima talks.

“Words from such a responsible figure as Biden will not affect Trump’s plans on the climate change talks. In fact, Trump is expressing dissatisfaction with Biden’s words.”

Xi’s speech was critical of the US’s role at the Lima talks, calling it “very frustrating”. But the China Daily noted, “Despite Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, the United States has shown a new negotiating attitude in Lima.”

I have really lost faith in the old system. I don’t believe in it anymore Phelim Kine, US special envoy on climate change

Biden, however, argued that his performance in Lima had helped “create the conditions for a truly effective agreement”. It may have just upset an angry Trump.

As the only American to take part in all 14 major climate summits since 2015, the vice-president said Washington’s failure to commit under the Paris climate deal “will haunt me”.

“My point is the administration was not aware or engaged in negotiations,” he said. “I’m not sure why they didn’t do it. We had a good discussion. The leadership and role of the US is not really important in the grand scheme of things. There are 65 countries.”

Trump’s recent decision to seek Chinese help in finding US-China trade deals is seen by many as part of a long-term strategy for isolation. In Lima the US and China were “very far apart” in climate talks, the New York Times noted.

The administration’s apparent reluctance to face up to its own climate change policies has been exacerbated by the murky nature of the deal Trump has signed with Xi. In his latest interview with the Times, the president confirmed that US withdrawal from the Paris deal would not take effect until November 2019.

Trump said China would have an opportunity “to make a very aggressive offer” in his first 2020 presidential election debate and insisted China would be able to solve its high global warming emissions.

Phelim Kine, the US special envoy on climate change, repeated Biden’s blunt assessment that the US’s continued role in climate talks was less a sure bet than ever.

“I’ve really lost faith in the old system,” he said. “I don’t believe in it anymore. But I’m just grateful for the fact that we can still participate.”

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