WASHINGTON — John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, said Thursday he will travel to China next week to resume talks on global warming between the world’s two biggest polluters.
Mr Kerry’s trip marks the first climate talks between the United States and China since August, when Beijing angrily broke off talks after Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, visited Taiwan. The talks come as the highest-ever recorded global temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the El Niño climate pattern are heating both nations and much of the planet.
“We need real collaboration,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview. “China and the United States are the two largest economies in the world and we are also the two largest emitters. It is clear that we have a special responsibility to find common ground.”
The trip to China would be Mr Kerry’s third as climate officer. Visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen followed, aimed at stabilizing strained relations between Washington and Beijing. Mr Kerry said he plans to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua and other officials “at the highest level” in the week of July 16.
China and the United States are also the two largest investors in clean energy. Your policies have a major impact on whether the world can avert the worst effects of global warming.
Still, there are deep divisions over how quickly each country should halt emissions of fossil fuels that are dangerously heating the planet.
Republicans who criticized Mr Blinken and Ms Yellen’s trip to China condemned Mr Kerry’s trip and accused him of undermining the United States.
“Although John Kerry has not been confirmed by the US Senate, he is still negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party to advance a radical Green New Deal agenda that is damaging to American interests,” said Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican , in a statement. He accused Mr Kerry of doing “secret deals” with the Chinese.
Mr Kerry is scheduled to appear before the Oversight Panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee next Thursday.
The United States, under President Biden, has committed to roughly halving emissions by 2030. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress last year, invests at least $370 billion in wind, solar and other clean energy. Combined with Mr Biden’s proposed tougher exhaust pipe and smokestack emissions limits, the law could bring the US very close to its goal.
China’s emissions continue to rise, but Xi Jinping, China’s President, has said CO2 pollution will peak by 2030 and then stop altogether by 2060. China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. More new coal-fired power plants were approved last year than at any time in seven years.
But scientists warn that the developed world must now make a drastic shift away from fossil fuels to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
Mr Kerry said he wants to urge China to accelerate its phase-out of coal, tackle deforestation and come up with a plan to reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that escapes from oil and gas wells. These are issues that China hoped to address as part of a joint deal with the United States in 2021, but so far have not implemented.
“We’re really looking for specific actions that move the ball here,” Mr Kerry said. “If we can’t get China to work very aggressively with us to address this challenge, then we all have a bigger problem.”
Thom Woodroofe, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said the formal reinstatement of routine climate discussions is the “crown jewel” of any outcome from Mr Kerry’s trip.
“Right now, we’re just one geopolitical issue away from completing the climate talks,” Woodroofe said, noting that it took a year “to get back to where we were” after China ended diplomatic talks over military issues, drugs and climate change because of Ms. Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
Of those three, China has only agreed to resume talks on climate change.
Mr Kerry, 79, and Mr Xie, 74, each came out of retirement to chair their country’s climate negotiations. The men have worked together on some of the crucial international policy breakthroughs of the last decade, including the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which almost all nations pledged to reduce their emissions in order to avoid a rise in average global temperatures of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. That’s the threshold at which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic climate impacts increases significantly. The planet has already warmed by an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius.
Mr Xie and Mr Kerry met a couple of times on the sidelines of a UN summit in Egypt last year, although advisers said the talks were casual and mostly about when more substantive negotiations might resume.
Mr. Xie also suffered a stroke this year, but now he is “much better,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that the two men met virtually.