China warns US bad ties could imperil climate cooperation

Wang Yi tells John Kerry that ‘climate cooperation cannot be separated from wider environment’ of US-China relations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is seen on a screen with US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry during a meeting via video link [US Department of State/Handout via Reuters]

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned the United States that deteriorating ties between Beijing and Washington could undermine efforts to combat global warming and climate change.

Wang told visiting US climate envoy John Kerry that “climate cooperation cannot be separated from the wider environment” of US-China relations and called on Washington to take active steps to improve ties, according to a foreign ministry statement on Wednesday.

Wang said the two sides’ joint efforts on climate change were an “oasis”.

“But surrounding the oasis is a desert, and the oasis could be desertified very soon,” he said via video link. Cooperation on climate “cannot sustain without an improved bilateral relationship”, he added, urging the US to “stop viewing China as a threat and a rival” and “cease containing and suppressing China all over the world”.

Kerry, who is in the Chinese city of Tianjin for climate talks, told Wang that the US remained committed to working with other nations to tackle climate change, according to the US Department of State.

The climate crisis “must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” he said while encouraging China to “take additional steps to reduce emissions”.

The US, which has resumed its role in global climate diplomacy after a four-year hiatus under President Donald Trump, has long hoped to keep climate issues separate from its wider disputes with China on issues such as trade, human rights and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kerry is in Tianjin to hold face-to-face talks with Xie Zhenhua, China’s special climate envoy, on the countries’ joint response to the climate crisis. The former US secretary of state has called for stronger efforts to curb rising temperatures to no more than 1.5C (34.7F) over pre-industrial levels, and urged China to join the US in urgently cutting carbon emissions.

The meeting in Tianjin is the second to be held between Kerry and Xie, with the first taking place in Shanghai in April. Kerry has no remit to discuss anything apart from climate change issues.

Climate watchers are hoping that the talks will lead to more ambitious pledges by both countries to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the US.

“The G2 (China and the United States) need to realise that beyond their bilateral oasis and desert, the whole planet is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate adviser with the environmental group Greenpeace.

“If they don’t make joint climate progress fast enough, it is soon all going to be desert,” he added.

Though Wang warned that climate change could now be tied to other diplomatic issues, China has insisted that its efforts to curb its emissions and switch to cleaner forms of energy are a vital part of its own ambitious domestic policy agenda.

“Chinese leaders have long said they are engaged in climate action not because of outside pressure, but because it benefits China and the world-at-large,” said Alex Wang, a climate expert and professor at UCLA.

“If that is so, then US-China tensions should not slow Chinese climate action.”

The world’s biggest coal user, China obtains roughly 60 percent of its power from coal. It plans to build more coal-fired power plants but still plans to reduce its use of fossil fuels.

China has set a target of generating 20 percent of the country’s total energy consumption from renewables by 2025 and reduce total emissions starting from 2030.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping wants China to become carbon-neutral by 2060.

US President Joe Biden has announced a goal to cut up to 52 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — double the target set by former President Barack Obama in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Global decarbonising efforts will come under the spotlight at a UN conference to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in late November, known as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies