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US and China Need More Time to ‘Break New Ground’ on Joint Climate Fight, Says US Climate Envoy John Kerry

CRISIS - Atmospheric CO2 Levels by Martina Igini Americas Asia Jul 20th 20234 mins
US and China Need More Time to ‘Break New Ground’ on Joint Climate Fight, Says US Climate Envoy John Kerry

US Kerry’s four-day trip to China marks a long-awaited resumption of climate talks between the world’s largest polluters. 

The US and China failed to reach significant climate agreements despite four days of “productive” conversations that marked the resumption of key dialogues on climate strategies between the two biggest polluters in the world, US Climate Envoy John Kerry said on Wednesday.

Kerry’s first visit to Beijing since September 2021 – the first time he met with Xi Jinping’s new leadership team, including second-ranked official premier Li Qiang – came as the two economic superpowers agreed to resume stalled talks on climate change ahead of November’s COP28. Talks between Washington and Beijing were suspended following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan last year as well as the more recent discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the US.

The two parties agreed on implementing the pledges made during one of the last bilateral meetings between Kerry and China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua in April 2021, which included a phase-down of hydrofluorocarbon production and consumption reflected in the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and cooperation “on addressing emissions of methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases.”

Initial conversations focussed on integrating renewable power to scale down the use of coal,  as Kerry warned that the world is “running out of time” to cut emissions and that “we have to be reducing coal faster.” 

Despite being the world’s leading nation in terms of renewable energy deployment, China is still ramping up its coal plant fleet. Last year, the government approved the highest number of coal power plants since 2015, the equivalent of two new coal plants a week and all the UK’s plants combined.

As talks were ongoing in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that no outsider will be allowed to dictate the speed of China’s decarbonisation. Speaking at a national environmental conference on Tuesday, Xi reiterated that China’s approach to achieving net zero by 2060 “must be determined by ourselves, and will never be influenced by others.”

Despite remaining highly dependent on coal power, China pledged to cut coal consumption in the 2026-30 period and reach a peak in planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions by the end of the current decade. Nevertheless, the promising progress in scaling up renewable energy – the fastest in the world – is expected to help the country achieve these targets. 

Despite a week of productive talks, Kerry said the US and China will need more time to “break new ground” in their shared mission to phase out fossil fuels and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and 2060, respectively.

“This is not a one-off meeting . . . we are already pinpointing the time for our next meeting,” the climate envoy said, adding that their cooperation is critical to obtaining a positive outcome at the upcoming climate talks in Dubai. Among the key issues Beijing and Washington must address in future negotiations is methane – a potent greenhouse gas responsible for roughly 30% of global warming.

Speaking at a congressional hearing on Thursday, Kerry said that methane is “particularly important” for US-China cooperation, Reuters reported. He added that “China agreed to have a methane action plan out of our prior talks in Glasgow, and again in Sharm el-Sheikh” in November.

Annual CO₂ emissionsCarbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. Land use change is not included.

For more than half a century, China and the US have been the world’s biggest polluters. Image: Our World in Data.

Extreme Weather Events Wreaking Havoc across the US and China

The meeting in Beijing came as both nations are battling with intense flooding and historic heatwaves, which experts blame on climate change. 

Kerry arrived in Beijing as temperatures in the northwest Xinjiang province hit 52.2C (125.9F), prompting school closures and heat warnings for outdoor workers. Temperatures in the Chinese capital recently soared above 41C (105.8F), setting a new record for the city’s hottest day in June. Earlier this month, heavy rains in the country’s South killed at least 15 and displaced tens of thousands of people. While seasonal flooding is a regular occurrence in China, this year’s events are much longer and more intense, with some northern regions experiencing the worst floods in over 50 years. 

In Northeast US, relentless rain last week led to destructive floods in New York’s Hudson Valley and in Vermont that washed out roads and prompted the evacuation of hundreds of resident. Americans are also dealing with the dramatic consequences of a rapidly warming planet, from blazing heat affecting vast parts of the country – from Texas to Southern California – to extremely unhealthy air quality in the Midwest amid months-long wildfires in Canada.

You might also like: Earth Records Hottest Day Ever Amid Rising Greenhouse Gas Emissions

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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