US climate envoy John Kerry says more work is needed to iron out agreements with China on the climate crisis, as Chinese Vice President Han Zheng said Beijing is willing to work with Washington on reducing global warming if its political demands are met.
The comments come after three days of talks in Beijing designed to rebuild trust between the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
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“We – our team and the United States administration – came to Beijing in order to unstick what has been stuck since almost last August,” Kerry told reporters late on Wednesday.
Climate talks were suspended last year following the visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, an island over which China claims sovereignty.
“This is our first in-person meeting since that time, and we’re here to break new ground,” Kerry said.
He said “despite the hiatus of the last year” the two sides found many points of agreement during three days of cordial but frank discussions, and they planned to work “intensively” in the weeks ahead as they prepare for crucial COP28 climate talks in Dubai.
“We are already pinpointing the time for our next meeting and even the next one after that, recognising that we only have about four months before the COP, and we have to make up a certain amount of time for the period that this discussion has not been taking place,” Kerry said.
“This is not a one-off meeting,” he added, noting that the abatement of non-CO2 emissions like methane and the shift away from coal dependence were a crucial part of talks.
“We are trying to work with China to figure out the path ahead. China is working hard to try to develop some of those new technologies as well as deploy those renewables that will become the clean energy in the future. We look forward to working with China to accelerate that.”
Li Shuo, senior climate adviser with the environmental group Greenpeace in Beijing, said this week’s talks were “a complex rescue operation for the US-China climate dialogue” and said it could put relations on a “stronger footing”.
“Further engagements should help unlock more ambition in reducing coal consumption, cutting methane emissions, and beating a path towards a stronger outcome at COP28,” he said.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Zheng as telling Kerry that addressing climate change was “an important aspect of China-US cooperation,” but was predicated on mutual respect. He said it must proceed “on the basis of US attendance to core issues that concern both parties, fully engaging and exchanging ideas”.
Ties between the countries have hit a historic low amid other disputes as well, including over tariffs, access to technology, human rights, and China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Contacts have only slowly been restored and China continues to refuse to restart dialogue between the People’s Liberation Army, the party’s military branch, and the US Department of Defense.
Kerry arrived in Beijing on Sunday as heatwaves scorched parts of Europe, Asia and the US, underscoring the need for governments to take drastic action to reduce carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming and extreme weather events.
He has held meetings with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and Premier Li Qiang as well as veteran climate envoy Xie Zhenhua in a bid to rebuild trust between the two sides ahead of the COP28 climate talks.
“If we can come together over these next months leading up to COP28, which will be the most important since Paris, we will have an opportunity to be able to make a profound difference on this issue,” Kerry told Han.
Kerry told reporters earlier that his talks with Chinese officials this week have been constructive but complicated, with the two sides still dealing with political “externalities”.
“We’re just reconnecting,” he said. “We’re trying to re-establish the process we have worked on for years.”
“We’re trying to carve out a very clear path to the COP to be able to cooperate and work as we have wanted to with all the externalities,” Kerry said.
“The mood is very, very positive,” Kerry said ahead of Wednesday’s meetings. “We had a terrific dinner last night. We had a lot of back and forth. It’s really constructive.”
“We’re focused on the substance of what we can really work on and what we can make happen.”
No meeting has been announced with China’s paramount leader, President Xi Jinping, and Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been absent from public sight for three weeks.
China leads the world in producing and consuming coal and has proceeded with building new plants that add tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually, while also expanding the use of renewables such as solar and wind power.
China has pledged to level off carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060 as part of efforts to keep global temperatures from running out of control. The US and the European Union have urged China to adopt more ambitious reduction targets.
As in the US and Europe, northern China has seen record stretches of high temperatures over the course of Kerry’s visit that have threatened crops and prompted cities to open Cold War-era bomb shelters to help residents escape the heat.