The dialogue between the U.S. and China is high stakes. The world cannot meet global goals to keep temperatures from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels without China and the U.S. drastically slashing greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet the U.S. relationship with China is complicated. While Kerry has a long history with his counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, broader diplomatic spats over human rights, intellectual property theft, Taiwan and economic competition hang over challenges such as climate change that the United States and China could work cooperatively to tackle.
“We don’t have to wrap them up so one becomes hostage to the other,” Kerry said of those issues.
Republicans peppered Kerry with questions about whether he is too trusting of China, which is still building coal-fired power plants and has pressed its predominantly Muslim Uyghur population into forced labor to make solar panels.
China also views itself as a developing nation and has resisted accelerating plans to ramp down its fossil fuel use.
Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) urged Kerry to get China to drop its developing nation designation given it is the world’s second-largest economy and a major manufacturer with an outsized control over global supply chains, including of critical minerals needed for clean energy projects.
But China has claimed it is still developing given how many of its citizens are poor, which it argues justifies its dependence on cheaper, dirtier-burning coal.
“The American people deserve fairness. And honestly, sir, they do not see this as fair,” McCaul said.
Kerry said that he has raised that concern with China but that he did not anticipate much progress on that front next week. But he said those distinctions will be a central point of discussion at upcoming UN climate talks, where nations will “revisit” that dynamic.
Republicans expressed general distrust of China’s climate commitments, castigating it for being opaque. But Kerry said that China has “moved significantly” after past meetings with Biden administration officials. That included a surprise announcement in 2021 of China’s first-ever commitment to curb methane, a potent greenhouse gas, though it is unclear how much progress China has made on that front.
Still, Kerry praised China’s renewable energy investment. He cited International Energy Agency data that showed China is on pace to install between 3,000 and 4,000 gigawatts of renewable power by 2030, besting the rest of the world combined.
Kerry said that investment, along with human rights concerns about China’s renewable energy supply chain, is why the Biden administration pushed the Inflation Reduction Act. He defended the law’s $369 billion in climate and clean energy incentives as critical to developing a homegrown U.S. clean energy industry that is less dependent on China.
“That is the entire purpose of the Inflation Reduction Act, and it’s working,” Kerry said. “It is creating a new supply chain here in our country.”