REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

‘No way’ to solve climate crisis without China, Kerry says

Image credit: A Chinese government worker adjusts the U.S. and Chinese national flags before a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 10, 2014

US climate envoy John Kerry has told Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng in a virtual meeting that there is “no way” for the world to solve the climate crisis without China’s “full engagement and commitment”.

The virtual meeting was held ahead of the critical COP26 conference, due to be held in Glasgow in November, at which world leaders will seek to secure accelerated action to keep average global warming to within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This target is still possible, but will require immediate and drastic decarbonisation action, a landmark IPCC report concluded.

China and the US are the world's first and second-largest carbon emitters, respectively. China alone is responsible for an estimated 27 per cent of global greenhouse gases. The US has, by far, the world’s largest share of emissions per capita.

Kerry has implored Chinese leaders to expand efforts to reduce carbon emissions as part of the global effort to keep back the rise in temperatures. Kerry is currently in the eastern port city of Tianjin in China for talks on accelerated climate action.

“Secretary Kerry emphasised the importance of the world taking serious climate actions in this critical decade and strengthening global climate ambition,” the US State Department said in a statement.

State-run news agency Xinhua reported that Han told Kerry China has made “huge efforts” in tackling climate change with “remarkable results”. The Chinese government “hopes the American side will create the appropriate circumstances for jointly tackling climate change based on the spirit of the conversations between their leaders,” Han said.

Meanwhile, China's foreign minister Wang Yi warned Kerry that tensions between the US and China could undermine their work on climate action, which – despite having been identified as a potential area for co-operation – cannot be separated from the relationship between the superpowers.

Speaking to media before his departure, Kerry said his talks with Wang, Han and other key figures were productive, but the world was hoping for China to do more to cut emissions.

“China is doing a lot in a lot of ways, but it’s a huge country,” he said, adding that the opening of new coal-fired power plants in China and by Chinese companies overseas could compromise climate efforts. He reported that Chinese officials told him they are drafting a climate plan, although details are not yet clear. He said that while his Chinese counterparts raised political issues, they should not be a factor in climate co-operation.

“My response to them was, look, climate is not ideological. It’s not partisan. It’s not a geostrategic weapon or tool and it’s certainly not day-to-day politics,” Kerry said. “It’s a global, not bilateral, challenge and it’s essentially obvious that no matter what differences we have, we have to address the climate crisis.”

While China has made enormous and rapid advances in renewable energy, it has a tricky path to reach net-zero carbon emissions by its target of 2060, as it obtains approximately 60 per cent of its power from coal at present. China has already this year committed to many new carbon-intensive projects: the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimated that newly approved steel and coal facilities in China for the first half of 2021 will collectively emit carbon equivalent to the Netherlands’ total emissions.

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