China says US tensions threaten fight against climate change
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China has warned the US that a “strategic miscalculation” in its relations with Beijing had stoked bilateral tensions that risked derailing high-level talks aimed at combating the global threat of climate change.
The warning came on the eve of a meeting between John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the climate envoys for the world’s two largest economies, in Tianjin, north-eastern China, with the Biden administration calling for Xi Jinping’s government to boost its efforts towards cutting carbon emissions.
Speaking to Kerry via video link on Wednesday, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said co-operation on climate would not be sustainable without better relations. A “major strategic miscalculation” by Washington had resulted in “the sudden deterioration of bilateral relations in recent years”, Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese state media. “The ball now is in the US court”, he added.
On Thursday, Kerry told his counterpart that there was “no way for the world to solve the climate crisis without the full engagement and commitment of the [People’s Republic of China], which produces 27 per cent of global emissions”, according to a state department spokesperson.
Relations between the two biggest polluters have remained strained during Joe Biden’s presidency over issues ranging from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, the South China Sea to technology and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. At talks in late July between Xie Feng, China’s vice-foreign minister, and Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary of state, China said relations were in a dangerous “deadlock”.
But there has been hope that climate change might provide an opportunity for co-operation.
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The Kerry-Xie meetings follow climate discussions in April in Shanghai that resulted in a joint statement highlighting commitments to “concrete actions in the 2020s” to reduce emissions in line with the aims of the 2015 Paris accord. Under the Paris agreement, countries vowed to limit global warming to “well below” 2C, preferably about 1.5C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
Li Shuo, an energy policy officer at Greenpeace, the campaign group, noted the Shanghai meeting covered much of the “low hanging fruit” ahead of more substantive negotiations on near-term emissions cuts.
“Tianjin is more difficult in a lot of ways, not just the bilateral relationship, but moving any further on climate will require courage from both sides,” Li said.
After the meeting, Kerry said he and Xie had agreed to meet again ahead of the COP26 UN climate conference in November to resolve bilateral disagreements and pave the way for global leaders to strike more ambitious climate goals.
Beijing is trying to position itself as a global leader on climate change, with Xi pledging last year to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2060.
But China has been under pressure to bring forward its peak emissions target from 2030 to the middle of this decade. Critics said the Chinese economy’s continued reliance on coal-powered industry threatened to undermine its climate targets.
“I am sure Kerry will push China on ambition, including [emissions] peaking before 2025 and reducing coal, both domestic and along the [Belt and Road Initiative],” Li said, referring to Xi’s ambitious transnational infrastructure investment project. “But I doubt there will be an immediate Chinese response while Kerry is here.”
Additional reporting by Eleanor Olcott in London
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