Kerry travels to Shanghai for talks on climate change

US climate envoy John Kerry's four-day trip to China is the first visit to the country by a Biden administration official. The US is hoping to find areas of common ground on the environment despite the high political tensions between both countries.
US climate envoy John Kerry's four-day trip to China is the first visit to the country by a Biden administration official. The US is hoping to find areas of common ground on the environment despite the high political tensions between both countries. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI • US climate envoy John Kerry was set to arrive in China yesterday for what Beijing said would be a four-day trip, as the two countries seek cooperation over the environment despite acrimony on other fronts.

In the first trip to China by a Biden administration official, the former secretary of state will visit Shanghai before travelling on to the South Korean capital Seoul.

Mr Kerry's trip comes in preparation for President Joe Biden's virtual climate summit next week, to which the United States leader has invited both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Beijing, which has so far not committed to Mr Xi's presence at the summit, said Mr Kerry would stay until Saturday "at the invitation of China".

During the trip, Mr Kerry will meet China's climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and "exchange views on Sino-US cooperation on climate change", Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular media briefing in Beijing yesterday, without elaborating.

Mr Kerry's trip comes despite a testy initial meeting last month in Alaska between top Biden officials and their Chinese counterparts.

The two sides clashed over accusations that China is violating promises of freedoms to Hong Kong and carrying out genocide against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in the north-western Xinjiang region.

Washington is hoping to find areas of common ground despite the high political tensions.

Mr Kerry had told CNN that although Washington and Beijing had "big disagreements... climate has to stand alone".

Mr Biden has made climate a top priority, turning the page from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry.

Mr Biden has rejoined the 2015 Paris Agreement, which Mr Kerry negotiated as secretary of state. The agreement commits nations to take action to keep temperature rises at no more than 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels.

With the world badly off track to meeting the goal, Mr Biden hopes next week's virtual summit will result in stronger pledges in advance of United Nations-led climate talks in Glasgow at the year's end.

The US President has invited 40 world leaders to the climate summit, representing 17 of the biggest economies as well as smaller nations that will be among the first to feel the catastrophic impact of climate change.

Mr Kerry - who has already travelled on his climate push to European allies, India, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates - noted that he worked closely with China on the Paris accord.

"We hope that China will come to the table and lead. President Xi has talked about leadership, about China's role in this. We want to work with China in doing this," Mr Kerry told India Today last week.

No global solution is likely without both the US and China, the world's top two economies which together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

China alone produces almost 30 per cent of carbon emissions, far more than any country, after decades of rapid industrialisation.

But Mr Xi has promised that China's emissions will peak by 2030, as part of a major push to clean up the environment.

Mr Biden is also hoping to carry out far-reaching efforts to transform the US economy towards green energy, and has identified climate as among narrow areas in which the country will seek to work with China.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2021, with the headline 'Kerry travels to Shanghai for talks on climate change'. Subscribe