US climate envoy John Kerry held four hours of talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Monday, calling for “urgent action” as the two countries revived stalled diplomacy on reducing planet-warming emissions.
Climate talks between the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters came to a halt last year after Nancy Pelosi, then-speaker of the US House of Representatives, enraged Beijing by visiting self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers to be part of its territory.
Kerry, a former secretary of state, has enjoyed comparatively cordial and consistent relations with China despite Washington and Beijing locking horns over Taiwan and other issues.
Kerry met his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Beijing on Monday, with the two men speaking for around four hours, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Both countries “must take urgent action on a number of fronts, especially the challenges of coal and methane pollution,” Kerry wrote in a tweet after the talks.
“The climate crisis demands that the world’s two largest economies work together to limit the Earth’s warming,” Kerry tweeted.
Beijing said after the talks that “climate change is a common challenge faced by all mankind”.
China would “exchange views with the United States on issues related to climate change, and work together to meet challenges and improve the wellbeing of current and future generations”, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday Kerry would press Beijing not to “hide behind any kind of claim that they are a developing nation” in order to slow-roll efforts to cut emissions.
“Every country, including China, has a responsibility to reduce emissions,” Sullivan said.
“And the world, I do believe, should step up and encourage — indeed, pressure — China to take far more dramatic action to reduce emissions.”
China has long used its official status as a developing nation to justify its high emissions, with Sullivan saying “there is more work for them to do on that front”.
“Secretary Kerry will make that point when he’s in Beijing,” he said.
Kerry’s trip follows two other high-profile visits by US officials — Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen — that were aimed at stabilising US-China ties.
His visit to China came as the Northern Hemisphere endured record-setting summer heat waves, which scientists have said are being exacerbated by climate change.
“The Kerry visit and the resumption of climate interaction underscores the critical importance of coordinated efforts to address the climate crisis,” Chunping Xie, Senior Policy Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told AFP in written comments.
“It also demonstrates their shared determination to navigate a complex geopolitical relationship to promote the common good,” said Xie.
As the leading emitter of the greenhouse gases driving climate change, China has pledged to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2060.
President Xi Jinping has also said China will reduce its use of coal from 2026.
But Beijing approved a major surge in coal power in April — a move Greenpeace said prioritised energy supply over the emissions reduction pledge — fuelling concerns that China will fail to meet its targets.
“In terms of specific outcomes, one thing that I hope could be moved forward at least is the methane action plan,” Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, told AFP.
Methane was the main new area of agreement between the two countries in a joint declaration following 2021 global climate talks in Glasgow, Myllyvirta said, although significant progress has not since been achieved by China.
“Given the massive clean energy growth that is taking place in China, it does look like the country would be in place to commit to a stronger target than it currently has,” said Myllyvirta.
“But it’s going to take more than one intercontinental flight by Kerry to bring that about.”