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China, US set for 'in depth' talks on climate

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-07-13 10:51

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. [Photo/Agencies]

US climate envoy John Kerry's upcoming visit to China is expected to focus on enhancing engagement on climate and clean energy issues between the two countries, while possibly addressing how they can coordinate for the success of the upcoming COP28 meeting, experts have said.

While a meeting of the climate teams of the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases is significant, Beijing has urged Washington to "create enabling conditions and atmosphere" for their climate cooperation, days before the visit of the US special presidential envoy for climate.

As agreed to by both sides, Kerry will travel in China from Sunday through Wednesday, during which the two sides will have "in-depth" exchanges on tackling climate change, China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment said on Wednesday.

Kerry's office also said on the same day that during meetings with Chinese officials, Kerry "aims to engage with the PRC on addressing the climate crisis, including with respect to increasing implementation and ambition and promoting a successful COP28", referring to the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled to start on Nov 30 in the United Arab Emirates.

"As this is the first face-to-face meeting in several months, I expect this trip to be focused on discussing how to restart engagement on climate and clean energy topics at both a high level and at the working level," Joanna Lewis, an expert on Chinese climate policies at Georgetown University, said on Wednesday.

"I hope we will see a new joint statement that includes a detailed workplan for the two countries. Best-case scenario would be new climate commitments that both countries could bring to upcoming multilateral meetings such as the G20 Summit, the APEC Ministerial, or COP28," Lewis told China Daily.

Kerry will be the third Cabinet member from the Biden administration to visit China within a month, following Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week and Secretary of State Antony Blinken a few weeks ago.

Lewis, director of the Science, Technology and International Affairs Program at Georgetown, noted that the past few weeks have been focused on rebuilding the US-China bilateral relationship, beginning with Blinken's visit. 

"I expect Special Envoy Kerry was asked to hold off on a trip until these other trips took place and could help to set the stage for bilateral meetings with more specific agendas such as Kerry's," she said.

At Georgetown, Lewis runs the Clean Energy and Climate Research Group and leads several dialogues facilitating US-China climate change engagement. She published a book, Cooperating for the Climate: Learning from International Partnerships in China's Clean Energy Sector, in March.

"As we have seen in the past, if the US and China are not able to discuss key issues on the table at COP28 in advance of the meeting, this could lead to challenges in achieving successful outcomes," Lewis said.

It is important that both sides discuss some of the issues on the table in advance and try to find ways that they might be able to work together to assemble support from other countries on key issues such as the Global Stocktake, loss and damage, and climate finance, she said.

COP28 has an important role to play through the Global Stocktake process of assessing every country's progress toward reaching its existing 2030 targets, according to Thom Woodroofe, a senior fellow and founding director of the Asia Society Policy Institute's Climate Hub.

Woodroofe, a former climate diplomat, said that a shift to "tackling the climate crisis as a standalone issue" in the bilateral relationship would be the "holy grail" of Kerry's visit, but that is unlikely.

"While this is unlikely, absent this, a good outcome would be an agreement by both sides to return to where they got to at the end of 2021 at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow," Woodroofe said in an email.

"Beyond discussing the bilateral climate agenda, we can expect the two envoys to also discuss the multilateral environment, especially progress toward the COP28 Climate Conference later this year," he said, referring to Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua.

In early January, the two top envoys talked via video, discussing joint efforts to work on the global climate in a multilateral manner, according to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.

'Creating enabling conditions'

On Tuesday, in commenting on reports about Kerry's China trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wan Wenbin said that China and the US are in touch regarding dialogue and exchange at various levels, and that climate change is a global challenge and requires a global response.

"China and the US had sound cooperation on climate change and jointly facilitated the conclusion and coming into effect of the Paris Agreement," Wang said, referring to the crucial role Beijing and Washington played at the Paris conference in 2015.

"It is hoped that the US will work with China to create enabling conditions and atmosphere for China-US climate cooperation," Wang said.

The spokesperson's comments indicate that it is unlikely that Beijing will separate climate cooperation from the broader relationship.

China had to suspend climate talks with the US in August last year as part of its response to the visit of Nancy Pelosi, then-US House speaker, to Taiwan despite repeated stern warnings from Beijing.

Beijing has noted that for years, the US has been saying publicly that it wants to work with China on climate change, but its actions say otherwise. 

"While demanding China to consume less coal, it asks China to continue buying coal from it; while appealing for the development of renewable energies, it imposes sanctions on Chinese PV businesses," the ministry said in Reality Check: Falsehoods in US Perceptions of China,a document published on June 19 last year.

"Relevant US measures have not only impeded normal trade in PV products and disrupted normal supply chains, but also undermined global efforts in countering climate change," it said. "The US should correct its wrong practices in order to create an enabling environment for climate cooperation with China."

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