Beijing’s snub of US deals a blow to global climate talks

China’s decision to halt climate talks with the US is dealing another blow to global warming negotiations already upset by the energy crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The move freezes collaboration between the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters just three months before a key United Nations summit on global warming and amid a shrinking window of opportunity to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.

“It is yet another example of how deteriorating geopolitics will harm the global effort to combat climate change,” said Li Shuo, a climate analyst at Greenpeace East Asia. “When major countries, in particular, cannot get along with each other then that’s certainly bad news for the climate agenda.”

China’s foreign ministry on Friday announced it was suspending talks with the US on an array of topics, including crime, illegal immigration and climate, in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. China claims sovereignty over the self-governing island.

The declaration represents a snub to US Special Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry, who staked personal capital and credibility on directly engaging with Beijing to forge agreements on slashing methane emissions and accelerating clean energy. The suspension of the talks is “both disappointing and misguided,” Kerry said in a statement.

“The climate crisis is not a bilateral issue, it’s universal,” he said. “Suspending cooperation doesn’t punish the United States — it punishes the world, particularly the developing world.”

China’s action also further complicates global climate negotiations, already shaken as high gasoline prices and war-strained energy supplies stoke calls for more fossil fuel development, undermining years of work to pursue a greener path.

German officials are grappling with how to avert a natural gas shortage this winter as it and other nations try to wean themselves from Russian imports. Additionally, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has injected tension into climate discussions with Moscow. Russia is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, making it critical in the bid to limit global temperature rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

China is the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, followed by the US.

“It’s in the interest of both the US and China to address the climate emergency. They’re both experiencing dire impacts of climate change, it’s affecting economies and it’s affecting geopolitical relations,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate with research group E3G. “It’s in neither of their interests not to talk to each other for a long period of time.”

Activists stressed that despite the suspension of US-China climate talks, there’s no indication Beijing will pull back from other multilateral and bilateral negotiations — nor domestic efforts to address methane, an especially powerful greenhouse gas. Other countries could ratchet up their own discussions with China, including through Group of 20 meetings over the next two months and already increasing conversations with the EU.

“China’s relationship with the EU is also vital for effective climate action, and the EU must work to ensure channels remain open,” said Laurence Tubiana, chief executive officer of the European Climate Foundation.

Spokespeople for Kerry’s office didn’t immediately comment on the matter.

John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, brushed aside concerns about the frosty relationship with Beijing, noting that “China regularly goes after these sorts of engagements to signal their displeasure with the United States. They’ve suspended these dialogues for a wide range of reasons in the past.”

“We’re going to continue our efforts to keep open the lines of communication with Beijing while defending our interests and values in the region,” he said.

Kerry has argued that climate talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, effectively compartmentalized to avoid tensions on human rights and other issues, could yield common ground.

There have been signs of progress in those discussions. At the UN climate summit in Glasgow last November, the two countries unveiled a wide-ranging agreement to advance clean energy, combat deforestation and tackle methane emissions. As part of that declaration, China said it would be developing its own plan to address methane, with the goal of significantly controlling and reducing those emissions this decade.

“We need to ask whether the climate agenda can still be compartmentalized from other more toxic issues between Washington and Beijing,” Li said. –BLOOMBERG