Together, these trips have raised hopes about a cautious thawing of bilateral tensions between the two superpowers. After six months of heightened tensions, the fact that the two sides are even talking again is considered progress.
Extreme weather threatens the best-kept art of the ancient Silk Road
Climate is an area where the two countries have a shared interest.
“In the next three days, we hope we can begin taking some big steps that will send a signal to the world about the serious purpose of China and the United States to address a common risk, threat, challenge to all of humanity created by humans themselves,” Kerry said ahead of a four-hour meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, on Monday.
Early in his tenure as the Biden administration’s chief climate diplomat, Kerry made an effort to separate negotiations over the warming atmosphere from perennial disputes over trade, technology and human rights. That attempt to isolate climate talks from broader acrimony made some progress at first, resulting in a China-U.S. joint statement at global climate negotiations held in Glasgow, Scotland, in late 2021.
But last August, China signaled it wasn’t willing to deal with the climate crisis separately, when it suspended top-level climate negotiations in retaliation for then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the self-governed democracy that Beijing claims as its territory.
Since then, Kerry’s efforts to revive a spirit of cooperation have repeatedly stalled. President Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, agreed to resume some talks during a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in November.
But the health of Xie, Kerry’s climate counterpart, and renewed tensions over the Chinese spy balloon that drifted across the continental United States in February delayed the resumption of in-person talks.
In that time, the U.S. approach to dealing with China to address climate change has evolved. As well as searching for opportunities to work together on issues like cutting emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the Biden administration is also exploring using tools like tariffs on polluting products such as steel and aluminum.
In a bid to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060, China has vastly expanded its use of solar and wind power.
At the current pace of installation, the country is on track to reach 1,200 gigawatts of renewable power capacity, a goal set for 2030, five years ahead of schedule, Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based environmental nonprofit group, reported last month.
These plans make China far and away the global leader. Its planned solar panel additions by 2025, for example, are three times what the United States has installed.
But China is also a global outlier in its slow progress to phase out coal, a leading cause of carbon dioxide emissions and methane. A pledge to “phase down” coal consumption after 2026 has done little to slow the approval of new coal-fired power plants, with more projects greenlighted in 2022 than any year since 2015.
Kerry’s visit comes as torrential downpours, overheating oceans and raging wildfires raise alarm over how climate change is intensifying extreme weather across the planet.
China, too, is sweating through weeks of scorching heat spanning Beijing and the rest of the northeast to the Taklamakan deserts in the far northwestern Xinjiang, where temperatures reached a record 126 degrees (52 degrees Celsius) on Sunday.