US-China talks thaw in heatwave – Climate Weekly

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An elderly couple rest in the shade during a 2005 heatwave in Beijing (Photo credit: Natalie Behring/Greenpeace)


US climate envoy John Kerry visited an overheating Beijing this week, for long-delayed and lengthy talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.

There was no outcome document and no grand announcements. Nothing to impress the Republican congressmen who gave Kerry a grilling over China’s alleged climate failings last week.

But Xie was never going to get up and say that Kerry had talked him into abandoning new coal plants – any more than Kerry ever going to say Beijing had pressured him into giving more climate finance and removing American tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

The gains were more incremental. With expectations low, the meetings were cautiously hailed by experts as a “small win” and “an important step in what will be a complex rescue operation”.

US-China cooperation on climate had long withstood geopolitical tensions, but talks froze after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in 2022. Since then, they have slowly resumed.

Now, the “rescue operation” will continue with two more meetings planned before Cop28. In a press conference, Kerry said they’ll talk about two US priorities – coal and methane.

Success would be if China finally publishes its methane strategy. Or reforms of its electric grid to translate its booming number of solar panels and wind turbines into growth in renewables’ share of China’s electricity, a link that isn’t as automatic as you might think.

But, as China reiterated this week, the talks are still hostage to the wider relationship. Any high-profile US defence of Taiwan’s sovereignty could set them back to square one.

This week’s news:

…and comment:

While Kerry and Xie were dining in Beijing, another big hitter was preparing to leave the climate diplomacy stage.

Frans Timmermans has been the straight-talking, passionate face of the EU’s climate policy since 2019.

But now he’s leaving Brussels to try and become the next prime minister of his native Netherlands.

Who will lead the EU at Cop28 is unclear and, with Xie suffering health problems and Kerry considering retirement, it could be all change at the top by Cop29.

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