US envoy John Kerry urges China to help break climate 'suicide pact'

Without sufficient curbs by China, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is "essentially impossible". PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US climate envoy John Kerry called on China to step up its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, or put the world at risk of missing international targets.

Without sufficient curbs by the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is "essentially impossible", Mr Kerry said during a speech in London.

"It is not a mystery that China and the US have many differences," he added. "But on climate, cooperation is the only way to break free from the world's current mutual suicide pact."

The US should "step up coordination and communication" on climate issues, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday (July 21) at a regular press briefing in Beijing when asked about Mr Kerry's comments.

"Cooperation in specific areas is closely related to overall relations between the two countries," he added. "The US cannot, on the one hand, blatantly interfere in China's internal affairs and hurt China's interests, while asking China to offer understanding and support on bilateral and global affairs."

Mr Kerry was calling for urgency even as the United States is yet to come up with additional funds that activists say are necessary to unblock climate talks. As he spoke in the British capital's Kew Gardens, back home a vast wildfire continued to burn out of control in southern Oregon, and parts of the US are enduring extreme temperatures and drought, while parts of China are experiencing deadly floods.

Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the international community agreed to limit the planet's warming to well below 2-degrees Celsius and pursue efforts towards 1.5 degrees. As things stand, temperatures will rise by 2.5 to 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, even if every country fulfils the pact's initial promises, according to Mr Kerry.

'Dramatic Consequences'

"We're already seeing dramatic consequences with 1.2 degrees of warming," he said. "To contemplate doubling that is to invite catastrophe."

Energy ministers from G-20 nations will meet in Naples, Italy, this week as pressure is ratcheted up on leaders to agree on meaningful action at the COP26 UN climate talks in Scotland starting on Oct 31.

Mr Kerry, a former secretary of state, said that the US and China have had 13 or 14 virtual meetings on climate issues, and that there is a tentative in-person meeting scheduled for the end of August.

"I'm hopeful that we can make progress with China in next few weeks," he said. "We both need to raise our ambition. We're not here to point the finger."

US President Joe Biden has been hesitant to sign up to proposals to end power generation from coal, and phase out petrol and diesel cars. He has also stalled on how much the world's biggest economy will contribute to the US$100 billion (S$135 billion) a year in finance needed to help the poorest nations pivot away from dirtier fuels.

The US pledge will be among the items on the agenda at the Naples meeting, Mr Kerry said, adding that he's spoken to Mr Biden about it in recent days. He said the US plans to announce its contribution before the Glasgow conference, or risk affecting the dynamic of that event.

Still, combating climate change will require a long-term commitment. "We're looking at US$2.6 trillion to US$4 trillion a year for the next 30 years," Mr Kerry said.

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