US envoy Kerry starts climate talks in China

by AFP

SHANGHAI – US climate envoy John Kerry met with his Chinese counterparts in Shanghai on Thursday, in the first visit to China by an official from a Biden administration seeking to re-establish America’s leadership on the environment.

The trip is seen as a chance to put aside high political tensions — following a heated initial meeting last month between diplomats in the US — and focus on areas of potential climate collaboration.

The two sides clashed in Alaska over accusations about China’s policies in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uyghurs in the northwestern Xinjiang region, criticisms China rejects as interference in its domestic affairs.

In Shanghai, officials are expected to discuss environmental challenges, areas which both China and the US say are top priorities, as well as the upcoming UN-led climate talks to be held in Glasgow at the end of the year.

President Joe Biden has made scuttling the climate-sceptic policy of his predecessor Donald Trump a priority.

He has rejoined the 2015 Paris accord, and is hosting a virtual summit of world leaders next week which the US hopes will result in stronger climate pledges.

China’s leader Xi Jinping is yet to confirm if he will attend the summit.

The US consulate said Kerry arrived in China and will meet with his Chinese counterparts at a Shanghai hotel in a day of closed-door talks.

“At this point understanding each others’ expectations and ambition levels, and agreeing how to use those commitments to move the international climate negotiations forward would already be an important first step,” Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air told AFP.

China, the world’s biggest polluter, announced an ambitious target to be carbon-neutral by 2060, but analysts have warned high reliance on coal and modest short-term targets could scupper the ambition.

‘Long way to go’

As Trump turned away from the national climate agenda, Xi made bold promises to cut emissions.

China “now shouldered the responsibility of global climate governance” and won’t be part of a US-centred climate campaign, the nationalistic Global Times cited experts saying Thursday.

Biden has yet to announce any new targets under the Paris agreement. 

“Both countries have a long way to go to firm up their targets and commitments for this decade,” said Myllyvirta.

No global solution on climate change is likely without both the US and China on board, since the world’s top two economies together account for nearly half of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Li Shuo from Greenpeace China said he hoped the talks might yield agreements on China’s huge use of polluting coal.

“China is the largest coal consumer, it is still building coal-fired power plants, both domestically and along the Belt and Road region,” he told AFP, referring to China’s sprawling international infrastructure plan. 

“There needs to be a reverse on that. In terms of potential outcomes, that would be top on my list.” 

While Beijing and Washington have clashed over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the climate issue is seen as a shared interest which cuts through the rancour.