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US-China relations breakdown causing problems for climate action

John Kerry, the special envoy on climate to US President Joe Biden, has urged China to get back to the negotiating table with the US so that they can restart the global progress on climate change.

Kerry said: “China is 30% of all emissions. We need to get China.”

It's a challenging time for US Chinese relations following the visit of the speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in the summer, which was seen as a provocation by Beijing and has resulted in the breakdown of diplomatic relations. This has had a knock-on effect on how the two biggest emitters in the world can work together for action on the climate - or not as the case might be.

Kerry told The Guardian: "Absent China, are we getting the best hope for where we want to try to go? No, not in my judgment.

“I think China and the US must inevitably work together to do the things we need to do to win this battle [on the climate]. And I’m really very concerned about the interruption that has taken place due to events that are nothing to do with climate.”

Climate talks are, in theory, held outside of other geopolitical concerns but Kerry explained that China has pulled out of all talks. "Climate is a universal issue, a universal threat," he said.

"Without political ideology, without political party. It does not represent global competition. It represents a global threat to the world, which the two largest emitters and two largest economies could greatly benefit the world by coming together and cooperating to try to deal with it.”

The breakdown in political relations between the two countries came a bad time from a climate change perspective. They had just announced a bilateral pact at Cop26 in Glasgow last November, agreeing to work on clean technology, methane and other methods of reducing emissions. However much of the global progress made at Cop26 has faded into the background against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine which has created the doubled blow of sending some countries back to using coal and new investment in gas and oil.

Cop27 will take place in November 2023 over two weeks in Egypt. Kerry said the US-China situation will big challenges: “It won’t necessarily stop the [UN] process from working at all. It will lessen the presentation that we would jointly be able to make about our cooperation, of what it can do for dealing with the crisis, which I regret – I would like to do.”

He admitted he didn't expect there to be a big decision taken at Cop27 that would change the course of the climate crisis but was hopeful there would be a series of initiatives from individual countries and a shared will to move forward on cutting emissions.

He concluded: “It requires individual countries making decisions to do things, and to announce this. I encourage that, wholeheartedly. That is really important.”

John Martin