Beijing and Washington Look for Common Ground on Climate

On July 17, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in Beijing to resume bilateral climate talks. The three-day meeting comes just months before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP28 meeting in Dubai. Kerry called on China to implement tougher climate policies to fast-track its decarbonization. And while the meeting did not result in a bilateral agreement, Kerry remained optimistic, calling the meeting a success.  

Scorching heat acts as backdrop to meeting

The U.S. attempted to insulate the climate talks, shielding it from other bilateral irritants. However, China contends that compartmentalizing the issue is not an option. Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted that China would reduce emissions — but on its own terms. China houses more solar and wind renewable projects than all other countries combined. And while Beijing has pledged to peak carbon emissions by 2030, skepticism lingers as the country continues to commission new coal-fired plants.

The day before the meeting, China saw a record-breaking temperature of 52 C in Xinjiang, with the ground temperature at nearby Flaming Mountains, a tourist destination that consistently ranks as China’s hottest location, hitting 80 C.

U.S., China to navigate tense COP28 negotiations

One reason for the successful adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 was China-U.S. engagement in the years preceding the negotiations. Getting the world’s two largest emitters — with China responsible for 31 per cent of global CO2 emissions and the U.S. responsible for 14 per cent — to see eye-to-eye at COP28 is crucial.

But international climate negotiations are in a precarious state: some developing countries are frustrated by the inequity of developed countries (which used fossil fuels to power their economic development) calling on the rest of the world to aggressively cut emissions. Extreme climate events, including droughts and floods, also exact a heavy toll on developing countries. As Kerry himself noted in December 2022: “Seventeen of the 20 most affected countries in the world, by the climate crisis, are in Africa, and yet 48 sub-Saharan countries total 0.55 per cent of all emissions.”