SHANGHAI (Reuters) -U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told Chinese leaders that climate change was more important than politics, he said on Thursday, responding to warnings that diplomatic tensions between the two countries could undermine cooperation on cutting emissions.
“My response to them was, look, climate is not ideological, not partisan, and not a geostrategic weapon,” Kerry told reporters after two days of talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in the northern city of Tianjin.
The United States, which has resumed its role in global climate diplomacy after a four-year hiatus under President Donald Trump, has long hoped to keep climate issues separate from its disputes with China on issues such as trade, human rights and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas China believes they should be linked.
China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry that the United States saw the two sides’ joint efforts against global warming as an “oasis”, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“But surrounding the oasis is a desert, and the oasis could be desertified very soon,” he said, speaking by video link on Wednesday. “China-U.S. climate co-operation cannot be separated from the wider environment of China-U.S. relations.
Kerry told Wang that Washington wanted China to do more on climate, a State Department spokesperson said.
“Secretary Kerry affirmed that the United States remains committed to co-operating with the world to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands, and encouraged the PRC to take additional steps to reduce emissions,” the spokesperson said.
In a separate video meeting with Kerry, Chinese vice premier Han Zheng urged the United States to “create a good atmosphere of co-operation”, state news agency Xinhua said on Thursday, adding that Kerry responded that the United States was willing to improve communications between the two countries.
CLIMATE ACTIVISTS HOPE FOR MORE
Climate watchers hope the talks will bring more ambitious pledges from both countries to fight greenhouse gas emissions.
“The G2 (China and the United States) need to realise that beyond their bilateral oasis and desert, the whole planet is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate adviser with environmental group Greenpeace.
“If they don’t make joint climate progress fast enough, it is soon all going to be desert.”
The Tianjin meeting is the second between Kerry and Xie, following one in April in Shanghai. Kerry’s remit is limited to climate change issues.
Though Wang warned that climate change could now be tied to other diplomatic issues, China has said its efforts to cut emissions and adopt cleaner forms of energy are vital to its ambitious domestic agenda.
“Chinese leaders have long said they are engaged in climate action not because of outside pressure, but because it benefits China and the world at large,” said Alex Wang, a climate expert and professor at UCLA.
“If that is so, then U.S.-China tensions should not slow Chinese climate action.”
(Additional reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Clarence Fernandez and Andrea Ricci)