Podesta email dump reveals tight US-China climate ties

Todd Stern and Xie Zhenhua were opposing climate envoys for nearly five years – but in the heat of international negotiations they forged a vital friendship

Stern consults with Xie at the 2012 Doha climate summit (Pic: IISD Reporting Services/2012)

Stern consults with Xie at the 2012 Doha climate summit (Pic: IISD Reporting Services/2012)

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So long rivals, the lead US and China climate envoys were best buddies by the time the Paris Agreement was sealed last December.

It was a relationship that many credit with delivering the landmark greenhouse gas emissions treaty, which was built on a landmark 2014 US-China climate agreement.

Todd Stern and Xie Zhenhua were on point for those talks, and directed negotiations through Lima and Paris for their governments.

One email amid a recent Wikileaks release of thousands from ex-Barack Obama advisor John Podesta’s account illustrates just how close the pair were – shining a light on high-level diplomacy.

Stern commends Xie on his “your wisdom, strength and leadership”, with the Chinese responding “our friendship will last. I will always keep my friend across the Pacific in my heart”.

Both have retired from the international climate diplomacy – and the email exchange demonstrates how much they will be missed, and how tight the Washington-Beijing axis was through 2015.

From:[email protected] To: [email protected], [email protected] Date: 2015-12-31 17:18 Subject: Fw: message for SR Xie

FYI — a very nice message from Xie (responding to mine, which appears below it), in which he calls each of you and Secretary Kerry out for warm regards.‎ Hope you all have a happy New Year. Warm regards, Todd Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

From: 李超 <[email protected]> Sent: Thursday, December 31, 2015 3:51 AM To: Stern, Todd D (S/SECC) Reply To: 李超 Subject: Re:message for SR Xie

Dear Todd, Happy New Year to you and your family! Minister Xie would like me to convey the following message to you. Kind Regards, Li Chao

My dear friend Todd, We will enter into a new year tomorrow, happy New Year to you and your family! I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate you for your leadership and remarkable achievements in our cooperation last year. As you rightly pointed out in your email to me, it is the close cooperation between China and the United States in climate change that plays an outstanding role in reaching the Paris Agreement.

The two Joint Statements by our leaders last year and this year are historical contributions to the multilateral process of climate change. Release of the JS last year served as a driving force for the submission of more than 180 INDCs; JS of this year laid foundation for the outcome from the Paris Conference. With close collaboration among China, the United States and France during COP 21, an outcome satisfying all the Parties was ultimately achieved.

This is a successful model of showing leadership by China and US in our new pattern of major country relationship in international affairs, which should be carried forward in others areas in our bilateral cooperation. With the Paris Agreement reached, there is still a great amount of work in detailing and implementing the Agreement waiting for us in the way ahead. The international negotiation will continue.

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I believe China and the United States will keep hands joint to move forward the global climate change cooperation together. I keenly feel that technology advancement is a very crucial factor in attaining our long-term climate change goal and ensuring the ambition level of global actions. Only technological innovation can drive revolution and lower the cost for global actions.

An effective international mechanism should be set up to guarantee innovation, cooperation and transfer of green, low-carbon and climate friendly technologies, as well as exchanges and dissemination of best practices of various nations. Only practical cooperation featured by inclusiveness and innovation can help to achieve our goal in controlling GHG emissions.

Dear Todd, we’ve been working together for 7 years. You and I are opponents safeguarding our own national interests in negotiations; also we are partners to develop China-US climate change practical cooperation through dialogues. By working together in the great cause we have developed profound friendship that I value greatly and become friends with tacit understanding for each other. Our friendship has transcended geological distance and our work. No matter what changes we have in our jobs in the future, I believe, our friendship will last. I will always keep my friend across the Pacific in my heart.

If it is possible, we surely won’t miss any opportunity to continue cooperation with each other to promote the sustainable development of our own nations and the world and make our due contributions to protecting our world. The experience of being a guest to your home last time and the warm hospitality of your family is really unforgettable. What impressed me most is that the US family attaches great importance to education of your kids.

As I said last time when we met, I will welcome my grandchild soon, and I’d like to share with you my happiness. I hope that we can create beautiful and safe environment for our future generations with our joint efforts. Wish you and your family a happy new year and prosperous life! Please send my regards to Secretary Kerry, old friend John Podesta, and new friend Deese. Your friend, Xie Zhenhua


Dec 31, 2015 —– 回复邮件 —– 发信人:”Stern, Todd D (S/SECC)” <[email protected]> (b <[email protected]> 时 间:2015年12月17日 06时29分32秒 主 题:message for SR Xie Hi Li Chao.

It was so nice seeing you and working with you in Paris. Could you please pass the following note onto SR Xie? Ni hao, lao pengyou.

This is a note of deep appreciation for your wisdom, strength and leadership in bringing the Paris COP not just to a successful, but to an historic conclusion. It is also a note of deep appreciation for the friendship between us. We have walked down quite a few paths since 2009. Some a bit rocky, particularly in the earlier days, some with a bit of wrestling, since we both were charged with carrying our country’s positions forward, but always with great respect, understanding, humor and affection.

We have accomplished some very important things together. We both know there is no G2, but we also know that nothing great can happen in this arena unless and until China and the United States have made the decision to join hands. We worked together to establish the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group in 2013, which has become the preeminent vehicle of our expanding bilateral cooperation.

We worked together to negotiate the Joint Announcement between President Xi and President Obama a year ago, an understanding that electrified the climate change world, creating a dynamic that has produced 186 INDCs so far, and lifted climate change to a central place in our bilateral relationship. And we collaborated closely during the whole course of this year, starting in April and continuing until the final gavel of the ADP, to produce the Paris Agreement.

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When you said to me Wednesday night (December 9) that the time had come for us to assert our leadership and resolve remaining tough issues in the negotiations, that set in motion a series of discussions that helped seal the agreement. You know, President Xi told President Obama in their bilateral meeting in Paris that climate change could be an illustration of the new model of major power relations, and I think we have, in fact, made it so. China showed great wisdom in bringing you back from your (very short!) retirement to lead the Chinese negotiating team, and you played your part with the same skill and determination that you have always showed.

I wish you the very best in whatever your next step is, and I trust that wherever you may be in the future, and wherever I may be (the Obama Administration only has one year left), we will stay in contact. My door will be open to you for another good dinner (at home or out, at your choice!) anytime you come to Washington, and I will of course see you the next time I come to Beijing, hopefully before long.

Many thanks for your warm friendship and the respect which you have always shown me (even when we argue!). You are a dear friend, and I’m lucky to be able to say that. Warmest regards, Todd

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