China’s President Xi Jinping will attend US President Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit this week, Beijing said on Wednesday, as the world’s most polluting nations seek rare common ground despite wider political tensions.
Biden has invited 40 world leaders including Xi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the meeting that starts on Earth Day on Thursday and is meant to mark Washington’s return to the front lines of the fight against climate change after former president Donald Trump disengaged from the process.
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The virtual summit will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden became president.
Xi will give an “important speech” at the meeting, said the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, days after a trip to Shanghai by US climate envoy John Kerry – the first official from Biden’s administration to visit China.
Kerry and Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua had said they were “committed to cooperating” on tackling the climate crisis, even as sky-high tensions remain on multiple other fronts.
Washington and Beijing are at loggerheads over accusations about China’s policies in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uighurs in its northwestern Xinjiang region – criticisms Beijing rejects as interference in its domestic affairs.
No global solution to climate change is likely without the US and China, since the world’s top two economies together account for nearly half of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
Biden has made climate a priority, turning the page on Trump, who aligned himself closely to the fossil fuel industry.
The US president has rejoined the 2015 Paris accord, which Kerry negotiated when he was secretary of state and which committed nations to take action to keep temperature rises at no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
China – the world’s top carbon emitter – has pledged to reach peak emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060.
“China will scale up its intended nationally determined contributions [to the Paris agreement] by adopting more vigorous policies and measures,” Xi said when he made the announcement in September, urging all countries to pursue a “green recovery of the world economy in the post-COVID era.”
Meanwhile, Biden is expected to announce new US goals on reducing carbon emissions during the summit amid mounting global alarm over record-breaking temperatures and increasingly frequent natural disasters.
Beijing has said the US needs to take more responsibility for climate change, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua calling Washington’s return to the Paris accord “a truant getting back to class”.
Xi joined another virtual climate summit with France and Germany last week, where he said developed countries should “set an example” in reducing emissions and support developing nations’ responses to climate change, state news agency Xinhua reported.
On Tuesday, he also addressed the issue of climate change during his virtual speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, stressing the need for more investments in green energy and to make green technology a “defining feature” of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.