China and the United States could use climate cooperation to redefine their troubled relationship and lead the way in tackling global warming, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told senior Chinese officials on July 18.
Kerry's three-day visit to China aimed at reviving climate cooperation between the world's top greenhouse gas emitters has coincided with waves of extreme weather across the planet, including a heat dome in the western United States that brought temperatures in California's Death Valley to 53 Celsius (128 Fahrenheit) on July 16.
"Our hope is that this can be the beginning of a new definition of cooperation and capacity to resolve differences between us," Kerry told top diplomat Wang Yi in a meeting in the Great Hall of the People, China's cavernous legislative building.
Addressing Premier Li Qiang, Kerry warned that the situation could get worse this summer, and cited reports that a weather station in China's northwestern Xinjiang region had recorded an all-time high temperature of 52.2C on July 16.
"The predictions are much more serious than they've ever been," Kerry added after an unusual interruption by Li expressing doubt about the Xinjiang temperature.
Li acknowledged later in the meeting the severe climate impacts facing China and elsewhere, according to people in the room.
Topics of discussion between the two sides include the issue of climate financing, China's coal consumption and the abatement of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Li urged rich countries to "take the lead" in cutting emissions and meet their commitments to provide climate financing to developing nations, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Speaking at a conference on environmental protection, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the country's "unwavering" commitments 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 told Wang that talks could provide a fresh start for the two countries that have been mired in disputes over Taiwan and trade.
"We are very hopeful that this can be the beginning, not just of a conversation between you and me and us on the climate track, but that we can begin to change the broader relationship," Kerry told Wang.
He also delivered a message from U.S. President Joe Biden, telling Wang how much Biden "values his relationship" with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
"President Biden is very committed to stability within this relationship and also to achieve efforts together that can make significant difference to the world," Kerry said. "I know he looks forward to being able to move forward, change the dynamics."
Wang referred to Kerry as "my old friend", saying they had "worked together to solve a series of problems between both sides". Kerry also referred to their work together, including on the Iran nuclear talks.
Kerry met his counterpart Xie Zhenhua for nearly 12 hours at the Beijing Hotel on July 17. Wang praised Kerry and Xie for their "hard work" throughout the talks.
The U.S. and Chinese delegations will pick up on July 18 where they left off the previous day and negotiate through the day. Asked how the discussions were going, Kerry said it was too early to assess.
U.S. State Department officials said the negotiations were on two tracks, with one focused on national action on climate change and the other on COP28 talks in Dubai later this year.
Kerry is scheduled to leave Beijing in the early hours of July 20.
His third visit to China as U.S. climate envoy marks the formal resumption in top-level climate diplomacy between the countries. The former secretary of state is the third top U.S. official to visit Beijing in the past month.
Kerry had previously sought to ring-fence climate issues from wider diplomatic disputes, but Wang said during Kerry's previous visit in 2021 that climate could not be separated from broader concerns.
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