Kerry Says U.S. and China Must Set Aside Politics to Tackle Climate Change

The United States and China are running out of time to avert a harrowing future brought on by global warming, John Kerry, President Biden’s envoy for climate change, warned on Monday at the resumption of talks with Beijing that had stalled for nearly a year amid geopolitical tensions.

Mr. Kerry challenged the Chinese government to curb the rapid expansion of its fleet of coal-fired power plants and said the rest of the world is looking to the two economic powers and major polluters to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

“The world and the climate crisis demand that we make progress rapidly and significantly,” Mr. Kerry told China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, and other officials as the countries kicked off three days of formal talks in Beijing. “It is vital that we come together to take action,” he said.

The meetings are the first substantive discussions on climate change the two countries have held since August, when the Chinese government shut down engagement with the United States because Nancy Pelosi, then the House speaker, traveled to Taiwan.Mr. Kerry’s trip to China follows visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen aimed at stabilizing the relationship, which had been in a free fall over the status of Taiwan and an escalating technological, geopolitical and military rivalry in the Pacific.

On Monday, both sides sought to strike a warm note, with Mr. Kerry, 79, and Mr. Xie, 73, who have negotiated with one another for more than 20 years, referring to the other as “old friend.”

The climate talks come as China faces one of its hottest summers on record. In the past weeks, Beijing has been gripped with scorching heat as temperatures have repeatedly soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves also have swept over Europe and across the United States, baking the South and Southwest.

Mr. Kerry said the science was unequivocal indicating that intensified heat waves, floods and other extreme weather events have been driven heavily by climate change. He reiterated on Monday that the United States and China should be able to cooperate on climate change even as they wrangled with other disputes.

“This not a political issue,” Mr. Kerry told his counterpart. “This is not a bilateral issue or an ideological issue. This is real life unfolding before our eyes as a consequence of the choices we make or don’t make.”

Chinese leaders, though, have explicitly linked progress on climate change to the state of the broader relationship.

“If the U.S. continues its crackdown on China, escalating tensions and hostility between the two sides, it is unlikely to be conducive to any kind of cooperation, including on climate change,” the Global Times, a newspaper controlled by the ruling Communist Party, wrote in an editorial on Monday.

Mr. Xie opened the meeting saying he hoped the two nations were entering a period of “stable relations.” He said the United States and China should “seek common ground while shelving our differences” and called for talks to be “candid and in-depth.”

While the two men both called for cooperation, the reality is that there are significant tensions between the United States and China when it comes to cutting emissions. Together, the nations produce about 40 percent of the world’s climate pollution.

The United States has sought to push China to take on more ambitious targets. Mr. Kerry has said his goal is to emerge from this week of talks with a substantive agreement around issues like China’s coal use and plans for curbing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that leaks from oil and gas wells.

China, on the other hand, has tried to stick to how it plans to meet its current goals, senior State Department officials said Monday.

Republicans and some Democrats have strongly objected to the characterization of China as a developing nation and argue China should take steps on climate that are more equal to those of the United States. Days before Mr. Kerry left for Beijing, G.O.P. lawmakers questioned whether he should be negotiating with a nation they view as untrustworthy on cutting emissions.

On Monday, Mr. Kerry sought to push China on its coal use, even as he struck a conciliatory note.

“China has been doing an incredible job of building out renewables,” Mr. Kerry said. “But on the other hand, we see new coal coming online, which undoes the benefit of that.”

China has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060, but experts have said China’s coal expansion threatens its 2060 goal. In the past two years, China has been building more coal-fired power plants and expanding coal mines. In 2022, China permitted the construction of the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants per week, according to global energy research groups.

President Biden has pledged that the United States will cut emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, a goal that energy analysts say the U.S. is in striking distance of reaching.

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