U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said more work was needed this year to reach agreements with China on major climate issues, after three days of talks in Beijing to rebuild trust between the world's two biggest carbon polluters.
The two sides agreed climate change was urgent and that they should stick to the global commitment “to keep 1.5 alive,” Kerry said, referring to pledges to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.
That would mark a shift in China's tone, after Chinese officials in previous months appeared to question the latest United Nations scientific report on global warming.
The U.S.-China climate talks had been suspended nearly a year ago after a visit by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, an island over which China claims sovereignty.
"We - our team and the United States administration - came to Beijing in order to unstick what has been stuck since almost last August," Kerry told reporters late on July 19.
While China said its climate policies would not be dictated by others, it planned further negotiations with the U.S. ahead of the next U.N. climate summit, COP28, starting Nov. 29 in Dubai, Kerry said.
"Further engagements should help unlock more ambition in reducing coal consumption, cutting methane emissions and beating a path towards a stronger outcome at COP28," said Li Shuo, senior climate adviser with the environmental group Greenpeace in Beijing.
Li described this week's talks as "a complex rescue operation for the U.S.-China climate dialogue".
Kerry lauded the meetings for realigning the countries on climate, telling reporters that the U.S. was pushing for a new framework agreement that would have China "embrace something they haven't embraced before." Kerry did not elaborate.
Earlier in the talks, Kerry told Chinese Vice-President Han Zheng that climate change was a "universal threat" that should be handled separately from broader diplomatic issues between China and the United States. He said holding global warming to near 1.5C would require significant Chinese efforts to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other non-carbon-based greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. State Department said.
Acknowledging the recent diplomatic difficulties, Kerry said the climate issue requires the collective efforts of the world's largest economies to resolve.
"We have the ability to ... make a difference with respect to climate," he said at a meeting at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, China's sprawling parliament building.
"We are only following the best science," he told reporters. "There is no politics or ideology in what we are doing."
China has yet to issue a formal statement on the talks.
Speaking at a conference earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the country's "unwavering" commitment to tackling climate change, Xinhua said in a separate report on July 18.
"But the route, method and intensity used to achieve this goal should and must be determined by ourselves, and will never be influenced by others," he said.
Kerry acknowledged Xi's comments, saying the United States would not try to impose policies on China.
"There’s no one that my team or otherwise who anybody reacted to with a notion that they’re somehow interfering," he told reporters. "We are only following the best science. There’s no politics or ideology in what we’re doing."
Amid the negotiations that often stretched overtime at the iconic, 70s-era Hotel Beijing overlooking the Forbidden City, heat waves scorched parts of Europe, Asia and the U.S. - underscoring the urgent need for climate action.
Kerry spent time with China's top diplomat Wang Yi and Premier Li Qiang as well as veteran climate envoy Xie Zhenhua in a bid to rebuild trust between the two sides ahead of the COP28 climate talks in Dubai.
"If we can come together over these next months leading up to COP28, which will be the most important since Paris, we will have an opportunity to be able to make a profound difference on this issue," he told Han.
Han said the two countries had maintained close communication and dialogue on climate since Kerry's appointment as envoy, adding that a joint statement issued by the two sides has sent a "positive signal" to the world.
Kerry told reporters earlier that the talks in Beijing this week had been constructive but complicated, with the two sides still dealing with political "externalities", including Taiwan. Nevertheless, he described the mood as "very, very positive."
"We're just reconnecting," he said. "We're trying to re-establish the process we have worked on for years."
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