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US envoy Kerry says China crucial to handling climate crisis

Published: Updated:

China needs to expand its efforts to reduce carbon emissions to help hold back the rise in global temperatures, US climate envoy John Kerry said Thursday.

The State Department said Kerry 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.”

China is the world’s largest carbon emitter, producing an estimated 27 percent of global greenhouse gases, followed by the United States.

Kerry, a former US secretary of state, was in the eastern Chinese port city of Tianjin for talks on stronger efforts to curb rising temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

Kerry told reporters in a phone call that Chinese officials raised concerns about US actions they see as harmful to overall emissions-cutting efforts.

He cited US sanctions on solar panels that the Biden administration believes China produces with the forced labor of ethnic minorities.

Those matters were up to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Kerry said. “But I will certainly pass on to them … the full nature of the message that I received” from Chinese leaders, he said

Global decarbonizing efforts will come under the spotlight at a UN conference to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in late November known as COP26.

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

China’s official Xinhua News Agency quoted Han as telling Kerry that China had made “huge efforts” in tackling climate change and had achieved “remarkable results.”

China “hopes the American side will create the appropriate circumstances for jointly tackling climate change based on the spirit of the conversations between their leaders,” Xinhua quoted Han as saying.

Kerry made a stop in Japan on Tuesday to discuss climate issues with Japanese officials before heading to China.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned Kerry that deteriorating US-China relations could undermine cooperation between the two on climate change.

Such cooperation cannot be separated from the broader relationship, Wang told Kerry by video link.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been strained by disputes over trade, technology and human rights. However, the two sides have identified the climate crisis as an area for possible cooperation following Biden’s decision to rejoin the the 2015 Paris climate accord.

China obtains roughly 60 percent of its power from coal and is opening more coal-fired power plants, while also committing to reducing its use of the fossil fuel.

In the phone call with reporters later Thursday before his departure, Kerry said his talks with Wang, Han, senior foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi and Chinese climate change envoy Xie Zhenhua were productive, but that 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,” Kerry said. He said the opening of new coal-fired power plants both inside China and by Chinese companies in other countries could scupper efforts to halt the rise in global temperatures and were “counterintuitive and counterproductive.”

Kerry said Chinese officials told him they are drafting a new plan to address the rise in emissions, but that the details were not yet clear. He said the Chinese side raised political issues, but they were not discussed in depth and should not be a factor in cooperation on climate change.

“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 essential obviously that no matter what differences we have ... we have to address the climate crisis.”

Reducing emissions is “not asking people to sacrifice,” Kerry said. “It’s asking people to embrace the biggest economic opportunity the world has seen since the Industrial Revolution” because of employment and investment opportunities in renewable energy, he said.

Beijing has pointed to historical US emissions as a reason to resist action while making advances in solar power and other renewable energy sources. The country has set a target of generating 20 percent of its total energy needs from renewables by 2025, becoming carbon-neutral by 2060 and reducing total emissions starting from 2030.

Biden has announced a goal of cutting up to 52 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — double the target set by then President Barack Obama in the Paris agreement. The 2030 goal vaults the US into the top tier of countries on climate ambition.