US envoy John Kerry says climate co-operation could redefine ties with China

Climate envoy's visit comes as planet faces series of heatwaves

John Kerry attends a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. EPA
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China and the US could use climate co-operation to redefine their troubled relationship and lead the way in tackling global warming, Washington's climate envoy John Kerry told senior Chinese officials on Tuesday.

Mr Kerry's three-day visit to China aimed at reviving climate co-operation between the world's top greenhouse gas emitters has coincided with waves of extreme weather across the planet, including a heat dome in the western US that brought temperatures in California's Death Valley to 53°C on Sunday.

“Our hope is that this can be the beginning of a new definition of co-operation and capacity to resolve differences between us,” Mr Kerry told top diplomat Wang Yi in a meeting in the Great Hall of the People, China's cavernous legislative building.

Addressing Premier Li Qiang, Mr Kerry warned that the situation could get worse this summer, and cited reports that a weather station in China's north-western Xinjiang region had recorded an all-time high temperature of 52.2°C on Sunday.

“The predictions are much more serious than they've ever been,” Mr Kerry added after an unusual interruption by Mr Li expressing doubt about the Xinjiang temperature.

Mr Li acknowledged later in the meeting the severe climate impacts facing China and elsewhere, according to people in the room.

He urged rich countries to “take the lead” in cutting emissions and meet their commitments to provide climate financing to developing nations, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Speaking at a conference on environmental protection, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the country's “unwavering” commitments to tackling climate change, Xinhua said in a separate report on Tuesday.

“But the route, method and intensity used to achieve this goal should and must be determined by ourselves, and will never be influenced by others,” he said.

Fresh start

Mr Kerry told Mr Wang that talks could provide a fresh start for the two countries that have been mired in disputes over Taiwan and trade.

“We are very hopeful that this can be the beginning, not just of a conversation between you and me and us on the climate track, but that we can begin to change the broader relationship,” Mr Kerry told Mr Wang.

He also delivered a message from US President Joe Biden, telling Mr Wang how much Mr Biden “values his relationship” with his Chinese counterpart.

“President Biden is very committed to stability within this relationship and also to achieve efforts together that can make significant difference to the world,” Mr Kerry said.

Mr Wang referred to Mr Kerry as “my old friend”, saying they had “worked together to solve a series of problems between both sides”. Mr Kerry also referred to their work together, including on the Iran nuclear talks.

The US and Chinese delegations will pick up on Tuesday where they left off the previous day. Asked how the discussions were going, Mr Kerry said it was too early to assess.

US State Department officials said the negotiations were on two tracks, with one focused on national action on climate change and the other on Cop28 talks in Dubai later this year.

Mr Kerry's third visit to China as US climate envoy marks the formal resumption in top-level climate diplomacy between the countries. The former secretary of state is the third top US official to visit Beijing in the past month.

Updated: July 18, 2023, 3:37 PM