John Kerry: Biden administration considers imposing sanctions on China’s solar sector

US penalties could complicate envoy's climate diplomacy

Mr Kerry said the US has already made some progress in convincing China to scale back carbon emissions. The National/File
Mr Kerry said the US has already made some progress in convincing China to scale back carbon emissions. The National/File

US climate envoy John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday that the Biden administration is considering imposing sanctions on raw materials China uses for solar panels because of accusations of forced Uighur labour.

The move could complicate Mr Kerry's efforts to convince Beijing to reduce carbon emissions before the UN climate conference in November.

“Xinjiang province not only produces some solar panels that we believe are being, in some cases, produced with forced labour by Uighurs, but also there are a significant amounts of rare earth minerals that are used in the solar panels,” Mr Kerry told the House foreign affairs committee.

“It is my understanding that the Biden administration is right now in the process of assessing whether or not that will be the target of sanctions.

"I’ve heard some discussion about [the matter]. I’m not privy to where that discussion is at this point in time.”

About half of the world’s supply of raw materials needed to make solar panels comes from Xinjiang, the Uighur homeland.

Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the committee, immediately replied to Mr Kerry's comments on Twitter.

Mr McCaul said the US "cannot sign any climate agreement" with the Chinese Communist Party that would perpetuate forced labour.

Mr Kerry said the US had made progress in convincing China to scale back its carbon emissions.

But he acknowledged that Washington must seek more concessions from Beijing before Cop26, the UN climate conference, in Scotland in November.

“We’ve had very direct conversations with the Chinese on this,” Mr Kerry told Congress.

“They have moved somewhat in the course of the last month and a half, two months, after we’ve engaged.”

Mr Kerry said China had initially set 2030 as its date for peak carbon emissions but that the administration of US President Joe Biden had a tentative commitment from Beijing for 2024 or 2025.

He also spoke of Beijing’s willingness to sign a joint US-China statement on climate change as countries aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“We’ve been having some very serious conversations about the reality of the science,” Mr Kerry said.

“In the body of the text, they’ve agreed they have to change to something [between] 2020 and 2030.”

The joint statement came out last month shortly before Mr Biden gathered more than 40 world leaders together, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, for a climate conference aimed at securing ambitious commitments from some of the world’s biggest polluters before Cop26.

“We have five more months left to get [China] to embrace something that we believe ... is a legitimate initiative that makes sense,” Mr Kerry told Congress. “We’re not there yet.”

He also expressed optimism that Washington and Beijing could compromise on emissions reduction targets despite several other disputes.

During Mr Biden’s climate summit, he announced that the US would seek to halve its emissions by 2030.

But the White House has yet to release a comprehensive plan detailing how it intends to meet that goal.

Mr Biden has sought to restore global confidence by rejoining the Paris climate accord after former president Donald Trump’s withdrawal.

He also announced that the US would double its annual assistance to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change.

“In the lead-up to Paris, there was not enough dialogue with marginalised countries,” Mr Kerry said.

"I have been on the phone in the past weeks with the president of the Marshall Islands, the prime minister of Fiji and others.

"They’re facing not just adaptation, they may have to move altogether. Those nations, most likely, some of them are facing extinction.”

Updated: May 13, 2021 10:46 AM

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