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‘No way’ to solve climate crisis without China, says Kerry

Climate envoy John Kerry told Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng in a virtual meeting that there is “no way” for the world to solve the climate crisis without China’s “full involvement and commitment”.

The virtual meeting took place ahead of the critical COP26 conference, to be held in Glasgow in November, where world leaders will push for accelerated action to keep average global warming within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This goal is still possible, but requires immediate and drastic decarbonization measures, a landmark IPCC report concluded.

China and the US are the world’s first and second-largest emitters of carbon, respectively. China alone is responsible for an estimated 27 percent of global greenhouse gases. The US has by far the largest share of emissions per capita.

Kerry has pleaded with Chinese leaders to step up efforts to reduce CO2 emissions as part of global efforts to stem the rise in temperature. Kerry is currently in China’s eastern port city of Tianjin for talks on accelerated climate action.

“Secretary Kerry stressed the importance of taking serious climate action in this critical decade and strengthening global climate ambition,” the US State Department said in a statement.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Han told Kerry that China has made “enormous efforts” to tackle climate change with “remarkable results”. The Chinese government “hopes that the US side will create the right conditions to jointly tackle climate change based on the spirit of the talks between their leaders,” Han said.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned Kerry that tensions between the US and China could undermine their work on climate action, which – despite being identified as a potential area for cooperation – cannot be separated from the relationship between the superpowers.

Speaking to the media before his departure, Kerry said his talks with Wang, Han, and other key figures had been productive, but the world hoped China would do more to reduce emissions.

“China is doing a lot in many ways, but it’s a huge country,” he said, adding that the opening of new coal-fired power plants in China and by Chinese companies abroad could jeopardize climate efforts. He reported that Chinese officials told him they are drafting a climate plan, although details are not yet clear. He said that while his Chinese colleagues raised political issues, they should not play a role in climate cooperation.

“My reaction to that was: look, the climate is not ideological. It’s not partisan. It’s not a geostrategic weapon or tool and it’s certainly not everyday politics,” Kerry said. “It’s a global, not bilateral, challenge and it’s essentially clear that regardless of the differences we have, we need to tackle the climate crisis.”

While China has made huge and rapid strides in renewable energy, it has an arduous path to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, as it currently gets about 60 percent of its energy from coal. China has already committed to many new carbon-intensive projects this year: the Helsinki-based Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimated that the newly approved steel and coal facilities in China will collectively emit a carbon equivalent to the Netherlands by the first half of 2021′ total emissions.