US Special Envoy Kerry Meets Chinese Counterpart to Discuss Coal, Methane, and Trade Tariffs, Boosting Ambition Ahead of COP28

US Special Envoy Kerry to Hold Talks with Chinese Counterpart

In an effort to combat global warming, the United States and China will engage in bilateral meetings this week that experts hope will elevate ambitions ahead of UN-sponsored climate talks in late 2023. These talks come after two previous high-level visits between the two countries this year, as they work to stabilize their relationship amidst trade disputes, military tensions, and accusations of spying.

John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate change, arrived in Beijing on Sunday to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, from Monday through Wednesday. The discussions will primarily focus on reducing methane emissions, limiting coal use, curbing deforestation, and assisting developing nations in addressing climate change.

While the main agenda revolves around climate issues, it is expected that Kerry and Xie will also address China’s objections to US tariffs and restrictions on imports of Chinese solar panel and battery components. The US aims to protect its manufacturers from low-cost competitors in China, particularly those suspected of using forced labor, an allegation that Beijing denies.

“I wouldn’t expect any major breakthroughs in these meetings, but I do hope they will restore normal alignment and diplomacy,” said David Sandalow, director of the US-China program at the Center on Global Energy Policy.

During a recent House foreign relations subcommittee hearing, Kerry outlined his objectives for the China trip, emphasizing the need to establish stability in the relationship without making any concessions.

Some Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for being too lenient on Beijing in climate diplomacy, arguing that China continues to increase its greenhouse gas emissions while the US implements costly measures to address the issue.

Kerry’s visit to China is the third by a high-ranking US official this year, following Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Both countries have expressed their willingness to collaborate on climate change despite other disagreements.

The scheduled talks between the US and China have historically had a positive impact on global climate negotiations. For instance, they played a crucial role in setting the foundation for the Paris climate accord in 2015, where governments agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

However, tensions between the two countries have strained the relationship in recent years. These tensions include Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods, former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and a US law blocking imports from the Xinjiang region over concerns of forced labor.

It is important to note that after Pelosi’s visit, Beijing suspended all dialogue with Washington on climate change. Informal climate talks between the two countries only resumed in November last year at the COP27 summit in Egypt.

While China leads the world in renewable energy capacity, it has also seen a resurgence in coal consumption, which is a major concern for the US. In 2022, China granted its highest number of licenses for new coal plants since 2015.

Although the US may raise issues related to halting the development of new coal plants, experts believe it is unlikely that China will make any commitments on this matter. Similarly, China is expected to address US tariffs on Chinese solar technology, but the US is not likely to announce any changes in this regard.

During a recent visit by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, she urged China to participate in UN-run funds to help developing nations tackle climate change. However, China, considering itself a developing country, has been reluctant to fully engage in these discussions.

The talks between Kerry and Xie will play a crucial role in determining the path forward in global climate action. As the two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, their cooperation is essential for achieving the necessary reductions in emissions and addressing the urgent challenges posed by climate change.