Apr 14, 2021 - World

John Kerry and China's long road ahead on climate

Photo illustration of John Kerry walking away towards the Chinese flag.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brian Snyder/AFP via Getty Images

Yes, special climate envoy John Kerry's really in China and no, don't look for a huge breakthrough between the world's two largest carbon-emitting nations.

Driving the news: The State Department yesterday announced Kerry's visit this week, confirming plans that began emerging Saturday.

The intrigue: State's announcement went far beyond logistics.

Their comments and an interview Kerry did in the Wall Street Journal were notable for tough talk and seemingly setting expectations low.

  • "We must insist Beijing do more to reduce emissions and help tackle the worldwide climate crisis," a State Department spokesperson said.
  • The spokesperson, citing Kerry's prior talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, said the trip is " intended only to continue these important discussions."
  • "We are talking to China about talking," Kerry told the WSJ. "We need...to have China at the table in order to be able to resolve this challenge.”

Why it matters: Kerry's the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit China, and the trip comes amid deep divisions on trade, security, human rights and more.

  • The multiday meetings come just ahead of a major White House climate summit April 22-23 (China is invited) aimed at jump-starting more aggressive global efforts to stem emissions.
  • China's greenhouse gas output is by far the world's largest, so efforts to press for stronger steps are key to keeping the Paris climate agreement goals at all viable.

The big picture: The New York Times sums it up...

"Mr. Kerry’s visit to China underscores the Biden administration’s intent to cooperate with China on shared challenges, including climate, the coronavirus and nuclear proliferation even as the countries are locked in an increasingly fraught political, technological and military competition."

What we're watching: That's whether the two nations will offer any new bilateral commitments.

A separate WSJ story, citing a source familiar with the talks, said Kerry and Xie will discuss "creating a new formal mechanism for bilateral engagement" and helping developing nations curb emissions.

Catch up fast: China last year committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and having its emissions peak before 2030.

But how that might actually happen remains quite vague.

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