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China has obstructed G20 climate negotiations, refusing to debate crucial issues such as greenhouse gas emissions targets, according to several people familiar with the talks.
The people said Beijing’s stance was backed up by Saudi Arabia, putting in jeopardy hopes of concluding an agreement on ending fossil fuel use and boosting renewable energy.
“I’ve never seen such wrecking tactics employed at a multilateral meeting before,” said one person at the negotiations in Chennai in India, the current holder of the G20 presidency.
Another person familiar with the talks described the Chinese negotiator at the talks, which ended on Friday, as a “one-man wrecking ball”.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to questions.
“We simply are nowhere,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU environment commissioner, referring to leading economies’ efforts to address climate change. Between them, the G20 nations are responsible for about 80 per cent of global emissions.
Those present said China argued the G20 was an economic forum and should not be the venue for climate change policy. Beijing also pushed back on proposed trade restrictions to deal with climate change, such as tariffs on imported carbon-intensive goods.
The country rejected calls for economy-wide targets to reduce total emissions by almost half by 2030, as well as an agreement for global emissions to peak by 2025. Such targets are intended to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels; temperatures last year were at least 1.2C above.
At a tense press briefing after the meetings ended, Bhupender Yadav, India’s environment minister, highlighted agreement on land and ocean conservation, and avoided questions about the lack of consensus on fossil fuels and renewable energy.
The G20 meetings are intended to help pave the way for the UN COP28 climate summit in the UAE later this year. But so far, they have highlighted the difficulties in reaching an accord.
A participant in the discussions described China’s stance, backed by Saudi Arabia, as “stunning” and “increasingly obstructive”. They added that if the countries impeding the talks were not “willing to shift, then the world has a real problem”.
Climate diplomats say Beijing’s co-operation at UN COP28 will be critical to reaching agreement on issues such as a global emissions stocktake and a fund for loss and damage resulting from climate change.
China remains the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions although it is developing renewable energy rapidly and its emissions are lower than those of the US on a per-capita basis.
China and the US are also resuming bilateral negotiations after a year of broader tensions. The countries’ respective climate envoys, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, met in Beijing last week and spoke again online on Thursday.
One climate expert familiar with China’s climate policy team suggested Beijing might be prioritising discussions with the US over the G20.
The problems at Chennai follow a failure to reach agreement at a G20 energy ministers’ meeting last week, at which Russia also resisted agreements related to climate change.
Geopolitical tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine have played a large part in the G20 ministerial discussions.
People involved in the latest G20 meetings said discussions with China had been difficult during previous international climate talks, including at the UN meeting in Bonn in June, but that its stance at the Chennai negotiations had hardened.
China has committed to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and to be “carbon-neutral” by 2060.
But President Xi Jinping has said that the “method, pace and intensity to achieve this goal should and must be determined by ourselves, and will never be influenced by others”.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Parkin in Delhi and Alice Hancock in Brussels
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