Climate Change Is ‘Not a Geostrategic Weapon,’ Kerry Tells Chinese Leaders
and Escalating tensions between and the United States have spilled into their talks over how to stop global warming from hitting catastrophic levels after Chinese officials warned the , , that political ill will could undermine cooperation. Mr. emerged Thursday from two and a half days of discussions in the northern city of Tianjin, where Chinese leaders made what he described as pointed comments about the worsening relationship. Mr. Kerry, a former secretary of state, said he told the officials he was focused on staving off the worst effects of climate change. My response to them was, Hey look, climate is not ideological. Its not partisan, its not a geostrategic weapon or tool, and its certainly not day-to-day politics. Its a global, not bilateral, challenge, he said on a call with reporters. And, Mr. Kerry said, when it comes to tackling climate change, We think China can do more. Mr. Kerry said he and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, agreed to meet again ahead of international negotiations in Glasgow in November. Leaders from nearly 200 countries will try to agree on intensified efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and money to help the poorest nations prepare for the effects of global warming. Hopes for a breakthrough in Glasgow rest heavily on whether China and the United States, the two largest emitters of planet-warming pollution, can build momentum. Mr. Kerry said that Chinese leaders briefed him on plans for cutting emissions, but added that any efforts will be insufficient as long as China continues to build the that are most responsible for planet-warming emissions. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above the preindustrial average the point at which scientists say the effects of climate change will be catastrophic and irreversible requires a dramatic turnaround of Chinas coal trajectory, Mr. Kerry said he told Chinese leaders. Needless to say, adding some 200-plus gigawatts of coal over the last five years, and now another 200 or so coming online in the planning stage, if it went to fruition would actually undo the ability of the rest of the world to achieve a limit of 1.5 degrees, he said, adding, The stakes are very high. The talks reflected the precarious role that global warming has come to play in relations between the Biden administration and Xi Jinping, Chinas leader. Climate change could spur the two countries to cooperate on developing emissions-cutting technology, but it is also a point of discord over whether the other side is pulling its weight. Relations between Beijing and Washington have descended into rancor over , its in Hong Kong, and American . On Wednesday, Chinas foreign minister, Wang Yi, warned Mr. Kerry that antagonism from the United States on those and other fronts could hobble climate cooperation. The United States should stop regarding China as a threat and adversary, Mr. Wang told Mr. Kerry, . Work between the two nations on climate change, he said, cannot possibly be divorced from other geopolitical tensions. The U.S. side hopes that climate cooperation can be an oasis in China-U.S. relations, but if that oasis is surrounded by desert, it will also become desertified sooner or later, Mr. Wang added. Still, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Xie have both described global warming as a threat that demands all countries work together. Signs of climate disruption this year ferocious floods and , supercharged lashing the southern and northeast United States, and drought and fires afflicting the have underscored what is at stake. Ive made it clear consistently in all my comments wherever I am around the world that were behind the eight ball sufficiently that we need to reach for the highest ambition, Mr. Kerry told reporters. Administration officials said that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Xie had held about 18 meetings since the start of the Biden administration, a sign that both are committed to striking a deal. Mr. Kerry, 77, and Mr. Xie, 71, both came out of retirement after Mr. Biden took office. Mr. Kerry on Thursday said his conversations with Mr. Xie focused entirely on climate change, and while other officials wanted the message to be heard on a range of issues, those concerns did not dominate the discussions. Kerry and Xie have been able to carve out a channel for ongoing communication on climate change, which is extremely valuable right now, , an associate professor at Georgetown University who studies Chinese climate policy, said by email. Yet it is increasingly difficult to fully insulate climate change from the broader tensions. Tensions over climate action go back two decades, even before China as the worlds biggest . The latest friction centers on calls from the Biden administration and other governments for China to accelerate the phasing-out of coal at home and end the financing of coal power overseas. Now the United States and other countries are pressing China to agree on seeking to limit global warming this century to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. That target would require nations to make steeper and more immediate cuts than agreed to under the accord . Chinas leader, Mr. Xi, last year that Chinas emissions would peak before 2030, and that by 2060 the country would releasing no more carbon dioxide into the air than it removes through new technologies and growing forests. Keeping the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees will be nigh impossible, though, unless China halts its emissions growth in the next few years, if not immediately, and reaches carbon neutrality by 2050. Chinas annual carbon dioxide emissions are about the same as those of the next three biggest emitters combined: the United States, the European Union and India. Chinas latest five-year development plan, released in March, indicated that the government could allow coal consumption the main source of emissions , offsetting the countrys rapid advances in solar and wind power. Kerry and his team are completely focused on this decade, keeping 1.5 alive, said Todd Stern, who served as the U.S. climate envoy under President Barack Obama. China may be more open to Mr. Kerrys call to curtail construction of coal plants abroad. Countries such as Vietnam and Pakistan that turned to China for coal plants have been . Ailun Yang, head of international climate initiatives at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said ending financing for overseas coal is important, but convincing China to end domestic use is critical. The summit in Glasgow, she said, wont be meaningful if you dont somehow get China, which has half of the worlds coal, to say something about an end date. China has its own doubts about American resolve, with President Donald J. Trumps decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement still fresh. President Biden returned to the accord and pledged that the United States would cut emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Still, the United States is not quite on track to meet its current goal of cutting emissions up to 28 percent by 2025. Meeting the even steeper targets will require passage of legislation that faces in Congress a fact not lost on Chinese leaders. Han Zheng, a vice premier in the Chinese government, told Mr. Kerry via video link that climate change was a major part of cooperation with the United States, but, Mr. Han added, it must be premised on trust, an account from the Chinese foreign ministry said. When the U.S. pushes for 1.5, its hard not to be cynical, said Li Shuo, a Chinese analyst for Greenpeace. He said China could announce new measures, but probably not during Mr. Kerrys visit, lest leaders be seen as bowing to pressure. If you understand our political system, the contentious nature of the bilateral relationship, it would be political suicide, he said. Liu Yi contributed research. is chief China correspondent and has lived in China for most of the past 30 years after growing up in Sydney, Australia. Before joining The Times in 2012, he was a correspondent in Beijing for Reuters. reports on federal climate and environmental policy from Washington. She has broken multiple stories about the Trump administrations efforts to repeal climate change regulations and limit the use of science in policymaking.