Climate Envoy John Kerry Seeks Restart to US Emissions Talks With China

John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special presidential envoy for climate, has praised China’s efforts at tackling global warming and urged Beijing to resume suspended talks on the issue, even as tensions flare with Washington over the status of Taiwan.

China cut off climate talks with the U.S. this month in protest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, putting negotiations between the world’s two largest carbon dioxide emitters in peril.

On climate change, however, Kerry said that China had “generally speaking, outperformed its commitments.”

“They had said they will do X, Y and Z and they have done more,” Kerry told the Financial Times from Athens, where he was on an official visit.

“China is the largest producer of renewables in the world. They happen to also be the largest deployer of renewables in the world,” Kerry said, referring to renewable energy. “China has its own concerns about the climate crisis. But they obviously also have concerns about economic sustainability, economic development.”

China’s military drills around Taiwan have worsened already tense relations with the Biden administration over Beijing’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and trade disputes. Disagreements with the U.S. have reached into the clean-energy sector, after Congress passed a law barring imports of solar panels and components linked to forced labour in China.

Kerry, who served as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, urged Chinese president Xi Jinping to restart climate talks with the U.S., saying that he was “hopeful” that the countries can “get back together” ahead of the U.N.’s November COP27 climate summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

“The climate crisis is not a bilateral issue, it’s global, and no two countries can make a greater difference by working together than China and the United States,” Kerry said.

“This is the one area that should not be subject to interruption because of other issues that do affect us,” he added. “And I’m not diminishing those other issues one bit, we need to work on them. But I think a good place to begin is by making Sharm el-Sheikh a success by working together.”

Kerry said he and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua were “solid friends,” but that climate cooperation had been suspended “from the highest level” in China in response to Pelosi’s trip.

The U.S. and China made a rare joint declaration at the U.N.’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this past November to announce cooperation on climate change, with the Chinese special envoy describing it as an “existential crisis.”

The U.S.-China statement contained little in the way of new commitments, other than China stating that it would start to address its emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. China did not go as far as to join a U.S.-European Union pact to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

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China was expected to announce its own ambitious methane reduction plan, and Washington and Beijing were working together to accelerate the phasing out of coal usage and to address deforestation, Kerry said.

China’s coal consumption approached record highs this month as heatwaves and drought strained the power supply, while U.S. government forecasters expect that a fifth of U.S. electricity will be generated by coal this year.

“The whole world is ground zero for climate change,” Kerry said, listing extreme global weather events in recent weeks, including Arctic melting, European wildfires and flooding in Asia. It is “imperative” for global leaders to “move faster and do more faster in order to be able to address the crisis.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 30, 2022 edition of The Financial Times.

Reprinted with permission.

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