David Meale is the No. 2 American Embassy official. Official 2 stated that China's actions on coal burning will determine if the world can achieve its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), as stipulated by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
China is the largest energy consumer in the world and the biggest coal producer and consumer. It emits 27% of carbon dioxide worldwide, which is the highest of any country.
China has not yet indicated any intention to accelerate its timeline to achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2060, 10 years later than most nations, and carbon emissions peak by 2030 or earlier, stated Meale, the charge d'affaires at the embassy.
The Senate has yet not approved President Joe Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official.
Meale stated that "it has been a very positive year for our cooperation," citing the close relationship between John Kerry and Xie Zihua as well as regular communication. China has sometimes indicated it will tie climate change cooperation to other issues. Meale pointed out the U.S.-China agreement to work together harder to reduce emissions in this decade, reached last month at Glasgow's COP26, as an indicator of China's willingness and readiness to engage.
He said, "This is a very positive result and one that we plan to continue to build on in our bilateral collaboration going forward and... get to an area where things are faster and where the numbers look more favorable."
Meale stated that while Washington and Beijing may have many differences, "this area is where we are cooperating and working very productively."
Meale spoke with reporters on Friday at a briefing, but his comments were kept secret until Monday.
Meale stated that while "no country can be where we need to go" in carbon reduction, China is a major player due to its dependence on coal.
He stated that the 1.5 Celsius target that the world has set for itself is at risk. To get there, we have to continue to raise our ambitions and take new steps. China is a great example of this.
Meale stated that there was an extraordinary need to engage, exchange of knowledge, and collaborative thinking.
He said that China's actions would "hopefully inspire other countries to raise their ambitions and give them confidence about the direction the world is taking on climate change."
Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, stated that China will not build any new coal-fired power plants in other countries during a speech to the United Nations this year. It appears that China will continue with the plants it has signed contracts for, but it is not clear if Chinese banks will continue financing such projects in the future, diplomats from the United States said.
China continues to build coal-fired power plants in China at a rapid rate despite Xi's promise. China's dependence on coal has been reduced slightly by increasing use of solar and renewable energy. It is now only about 57%.
China has increased its coal production in recent months to provide winter heating. Meale described this as a "challenging short term development."
He stated, "What it is bringing to focus is one of the fundamental problems of transitioning away hydrocarbons (for whom) we need to have effective transition plans and actions."
China's energy requirements have increased dramatically over the past decade thanks to decades of rapid economic growth. Meale stated that the U.S. has shown that it is possible to both grow an economy and reduce emissions.
"We all will have to consider the tradeoffs, the transitions and how we can get them right. This is true for the United States. He said that it raises difficult political questions and difficult science questions."
President Joe Biden was critical of Xi's withdrawal from the Glasgow talks and asked about China's commitment towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Xi hasn't left China for almost two years.