John Kerry visits China to resume climate negotiations

John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, said Thursday that he will travel to China next week to resume global warming negotiations between the world’s two biggest polluters.

Mr. Kerry’s trip will mark the first climate discussions between the US and China since August, when Beijing broke off the talks in anger after then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. The talks come as the highest global temperatures ever recorded, driven by the burning of fossil fuels as well as an El Niño climate pattern, are baking both nations and much of the planet.

“We need real cooperation,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview. China and the United States are the two largest economies in the world, and we are also the two largest countries in terms of emissions. We clearly have a special responsibility to find common ground.”

The trip to China will be Kerry’s third as climate envoy. This follows visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen with the aim of stabilizing the troubled relationship between Washington and Beijing. Kerry said he plans to meet his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, and other officials “at the highest levels” during the week of July 16.

China and the United States are the largest investors in clean energy. Their policies have an enormous impact on whether the world will avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

However, there are deep divisions over how quickly each country must halt fossil fuel emissions that are dangerously warming the planet.

Republicans, who have been critical of Mr. Blinken and Ms. Yellen’s travel to China, have denounced Mr. Kerry’s trip, accusing him of undermining the United States.

“Although not confirmed by the US Senate, John Kerry continues to negotiate with the Chinese Communist Party to advance a radical Green New Deal agenda that is detrimental to American interests,” Republican Representative James Comer said in a statement. He accused Mr Kerry of making “closed deals” with the Chinese.

next Thursday, Mr. Kerry is scheduled to appear Before the Oversight Committee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The United States under President Biden has pledged to cut emissions nearly in half by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress last year is investing at least $370 billion in wind, solar and other clean energy. Combined with the stricter pollution restrictions on exhaust pipes and stacks proposed by Mr. Biden, the law could put the US within striking distance of its target.

China’s emissions continue to grow but Chinese President Xi Jinping has said they will peak in carbon pollution by 2030 and then stop adding it to the atmosphere altogether by 2060. China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. Last year, it approved more new coal-fired power plants than at any other time in the past seven years.

But scientists warn that industrialized nations must move away sharply from fossil fuels now, to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Mr. Kerry said he intends to urge China to speed up the phase-out of coal, to combat deforestation and to issue a plan to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that seeps from oil and gas wells. These are the issues that China has said it will address 2021 joint agreement with the United States which have not yet been implemented.

“We’re really looking at some specific actions that are going to get the ball rolling here,” Mr. Kerry said. “If we can’t get China to work with us very aggressively to deal with this challenge, then we all have a bigger problem.”

Formal re-establishing routine climate discussions would be the “crown jewel” of any outcome from Mr. Kerry’s trip, said Thom Woodruff, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“Right now, we’re far from finishing the climate talks,” Mr. Woodruff said, noting that it took a year to “get back to where we were” after China halted diplomatic talks on military issues, drugs and climate change. Because of Mrs. Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.

Of these three, only China has agreed to resume talks on climate change.

Both Mr. Kerry, 79, and Mr. Xi, 74, have come out of retirement to lead their country’s climate negotiations. The men have worked together on some of the defining international policy breakthroughs of the past decade, including the 2015 Paris Agreement in which nearly every country pledged emissions cuts to restrain average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the threshold beyond which scientists say the potential for catastrophic climate impacts increases dramatically. The planet has already warmed by an average of 1.2°C.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Kerry met several times on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in Egypt last year, though aides said they had light discussions largely centered on when more substantive negotiations could resume.

Mr. Xie suffered a stroke this year but is now “much better,” Kerry said, adding that the two men had been meeting virtually.