Democrat frontrunner Biden says he will stop China spreading coal around the world

Joe Biden, who tops opinion polls in the Democratic primaries, pledges to build a coalition of nations to scrub dirty energy from China’s belt and road programme

Joe Biden is a frontrunner in the Democratic primary for the US 2020 presidential election (Pic: Flickr/Marc Nozell)

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Joe Biden has promised to crack down on China’s coal power spree in other countries if elected US president in 2020.

In a detailed climate manifesto published on Tuesday, the frontrunner in the US Democratic primaries said he would “lead a major diplomatic push to raise the ambitions of countries’ climate targets”.

The platform combines support for poor countries with tougher accountability for polluters, singling out China’s foreign investment programme for scrutiny.

“China is far and away the largest emitter of carbon in the world, and through its massive belt and road initiative, Beijing is also annually financing billions of dollars of dirty fossil fuel energy projects across Asia and beyond,” the manifesto said.

“Biden will rally a united front of nations to hold China accountable to high environmental standards in its belt and road initiative infrastructure projects, so that China can’t outsource pollution to other countries.”

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The carbon footprint of China’s coal deals abroad threatens to overwhelm its domestic efforts to curb emissions. At the latest belt and road summit in April, Chinese firms inked new coal deals while president Xi Jinping said the initiative “aims to promote green development”.

Engagement with China would form part of a global push to ban fossil fuel subsidies by the end of Biden’s first term, he said. The US would axe its own support for dirty energy exports and instead promote clean technology.

The former vice president under Barack Obama also recalled US financial obligations to support poorer countries in tackling climate change. President Donald Trump has reneged on $2 billion owing to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Biden would “recommit” to the fund, although he did not specify whether that meant increasing the US contribution in the ongoing replenishment drive.

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Climate change has become a flagship issue in the Democratic race, with New York congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement demonstrating mass public appeal for action.

Candidates are competing to answer Ocasio-Cortez’ call for a “green new deal” of mass public investment in climate action. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren has pitched a $2 trillion package to develop climate-friendly industries, while Washington governor Jay Inslee aims to “catalyse” $9trn. Biden’s headline figure is $5trn, with $1.7trn to come from federal sources.

Alongside Biden, Inslee has one of the most fleshed-out plans for international climate diplomacy. It goes further on climate finance, pledging to double the US contribution to the GCF.

Ocasio-Cortez has called Inslee’s plan the “gold standard” – but Inslee is an outsider in a crowded field.

Biden last month characterised his climate stance as a “middle ground” between environmentalists and blue-collar voters, to the ire of climate hawks. The details released on Tuesday attracted more favourable reviews from activists.

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