May 8, 2024 - Energy & Environment

U.S. and China hold climate talks in Washington

Illustration of a green round table with the Earth as the top of the table.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top climate officials for China and the U.S. are meeting in Washington Thursday to discuss climate action, with an emphasis on steps during this decade.

Why it matters: This marks the first formal negotiating session between new U.S. top climate diplomat John Podesta and China's chief negotiator, Liu Zhenmin.

  • Any agreements between these nations could smooth the way for meaningful outcomes between all countries at COP29 in Azerbaijan in November.

Zoom in: The talks come as tensions between the two countries on trade, energy, national security and a host of other issues have intensified. Moves in Washington are aimed at decoupling the U.S. from China when it comes to lower emissions technology, such as solar panels.

  • Podesta and Zhenmin are expected to pick up their discussions from an agreement their predecessors reached in Sunnylands, Calif., in the runup to COP28 in Dubai.
  • This puts climate finance, methane emissions reduction efforts and other topics on the agenda.

Between the lines: Drastically boosting climate finance, which is a top priority for developing countries suffering climate change's most severe effects, will be a major focus of COP29.

  • However, it is a fraught issue, given the low appetite for foreign climate programs in Congress and mistrust that exists between industrialized and developing nations after broken promises.

The intrigue: The U.S. may press the Chinese on curtailing their use of coal, Li Shuo, director of China Climate Hub at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, told Axios.

  • The U.S. side, Li said, "will want to also discuss the level of ambition in China's climate targets."
  • "The visit will also be an important opportunity for the new climate envoys to get together and get to know each other a bit better. They're not strangers to each other," Li said. However, they lack the deep relationship built up over many years that former special climate envoy John Kerry had with his Chinese counterpart.
  • "We all know from past experience how personal relationships could contribute to the two countries bridging some of their differences," he said.

What we're watching: Any tangible outcomes of the visit, be it in the form of a meeting readout, formal joint statement or separate statements.

  • In diplomacy, the format in which such results are provided can provide important clues as to how well the negotiations went.
Go deeper