For nearly a year, talks have been on hold between the planet’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States, as the effects of global warming intensify in the form of deadly heat, droughts, floods and wildfires.
John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, is due in Beijing on Sunday to resume climate negotiations with the Chinese government. He is set to meet his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, and other officials for three days of talks, aiming to find ways to work together on climate change despite escalating tensions between the two countries over trade, human rights and other issues. Here’s what you should know:
Why is this meeting important?
The United States and China are the world’s largest economies, the world’s largest investors in renewable energy, and most importantly, the world’s largest polluter of fossil fuels. Together, they emit about 40 percent of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Analysts agree that the speed at which the two countries cut emissions and help others switch to wind, sun and other forms of clean energy will determine whether the planet can avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
“There is no solution to climate change without China,” said David Sandalo, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations now at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “The world’s two largest emitters need to talk to each other about this existential threat.”
Why are the US and China negotiating on climate now?
Finally, the leaders of the two superpowers are starting to speak again after a year of extremely heightened tensions.
Beijing froze high-level diplomatic engagement with the United States in August after Representative Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who was the House speaker at the time, traveled to Taiwan, the Democratic island that Beijing claims as its territory. Mr. Kerry had hoped climate negotiations could be insulated from geopolitical grudges, but Chinese officials have dismissed that idea.
President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at a meeting in Bali in November to renew talks between senior officials. But those plans were derailed earlier this year after a Chinese surveillance balloon was seen floating over the United States, sparking outrage in Washington, which in turn slowed Beijing to restart talks.
In recent weeks, Biden has sent several cabinet ministers to Beijing in an effort to stabilize the relationship. Kerry’s visit follows visits by Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to China. Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo is scheduled to visit China after Mr. Kerry.
Mr. Biden said CNN interview newly.
What have the US and China already done to address climate change?
The 2015 Paris Agreement, a landmark deal in which nearly every country agreed to rein in emissions and stave off a dangerous rise in global temperature, exists in large part because the United States and China made an agreement.
The two set aside decades of arguing over who should reduce carbon pollution first, and agreed to work together, albeit at different paces. This agreement allowed the United States and China to convince other leaders that every country, regardless of its level of wealth or responsibility for causing climate change, has a responsibility to help solve it.
The United States aims to cut emissions by about 50 percent this decade and stop adding any to the atmosphere by 2050. China has said its emissions will increase until 2030 before starting to fall and then stop by 2060.
Analysts said that both countries are roughly on track to achieve their goals in the near term. But significant hurdles remain.
The United States invests $370 billion in clean energy and imposes regulations to reduce pollution from tailpipes and stacks. But at the same time, it has been approving new oil and gas projects and failing to deliver on promises to help poor countries pay for their own transitions away from fossil fuels.
China leads the world in electric vehicles and generates more energy from solar power than all other countries combined. But its consumption of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, continues to rise perilously. Construction of coal-fired power plants China accelerated Recently after leaders softened their commitment to cut coal and reaffirmed “energy security”.
What does the United States want from the meeting?
Kerry said he hopes to work on at least three issues with China: Curbing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that seeps from oil and gas wells; Elimination of Forests; and the phasing out of coal consumption in China.
The United States is also urging China to set new, stronger climate targets, including an earlier date when emissions peak.
In an interview, Mr. Kerry said he hopes to come up with some “specific new actions that will get the ball rolling” to reduce emissions.
What does China want?
By most accounts, the Chinese government wants to focus on the goals it has already set and the policies it has in place to achieve it. She is not eager to be pushed towards new goals, especially when she fears that a potential successor to Biden will back down from his commitments.
China is known for setting achievable targets and hitting them. It has already exceeded its goal of ensuring that the share of energy derived from non-fossil fuel sources increases by 25 percent by 2030.
“They feel they’ve done a lot of work,” said Bernice Lee, director of research at Chatham House, a think-tank in Britain, and an expert on climate policy in China. “They obviously want to point to the large amounts of renewables as part of the energy mix that is increasing, and they see this as an achievement.”
But, she added, “The question is whether they are in a position to talk about phasing out coal faster.”
Despite its massive economy and massive emissions, China is trying to position itself as a defender of the developing world. For nearly two decades, China has been the largest national emitter, but its average per capita pollution is lower than most rich countries, and Beijing has long maintained that these countries should shoulder a bigger burden in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and financing action. Global. Mr. Xie and other officials are likely to reinforce this message. Chinese officials may also pressure Mr. Kerry over tariffs that Washington has imposed on Chinese-made solar panels.
said Qi Qin, a Chinese energy analyst with the Research Center on Energy and Clean Air, an organization headquartered in Finland.
What is the likely outcome?
China-watchers are keeping expectations low for this meeting, in part because the Chinese government, like most governments, does not like to appear pressured to act. Observers do not expect major new pronouncements on emissions targets or coal cuts.
“I don’t think they want to look like John Kerry just came in there and told them what to do,” said Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago.
One possible outcome is that both countries agree to regular meetings between the United States and China on climate change. Experts say that would be a powerful outcome and could pave the way for the United Nations Climate Summit scheduled for November in Dubai.
Ms. Chen, the energy analyst, noted that recent visits to Beijing by Mr. Blinken, the secretary of state, and Ms. Yellen, the secretary of the Treasury, have not resulted in major agreements. Instead, Ms. Chen said, these meetings “may serve as the basis for a senior leaders’ summit later this year, where we may expect something more concrete.”
Chris Buckley Contribute to the preparation of reports.