China’s top climate official urges US to ‘clear barriers’ to talks

US-China relations hit new low this year after Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty

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China’s top climate official has said the US must take responsibility for any reconciliation between the two countries at the Cop27 climate summit, calling on the US to “clear the barriers” to talks.

Xie Zhenhua, the climate envoy for China, said he had met John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where governments and world leaders have gathered for a fortnight of talks on the climate crisis.

He said: “It is the responsibility of the US. We hope the US will take the initiative, to clear the barriers. I think the door was absolutely closed by them. We in China are trying to open it.

“We have already started informal conversations with the US. We, with John Kerry, have a joint effort to support the Egyptian presidency, and have a successful Cop27.”

Relations between the world’s two biggest emitters hit a new low this summer after the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, visited the disputed island of Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty. The diplomatic deep freeze has cast a shadow over the already fraught climate talks.

Both sides have made conciliatory remarks, but there is still no formal rapprochement. Before Xie spoke to a small group of mostly Chinese media on Wednesday, Kerry told an event: “I’ve spoken, but we’re not having any formal meetings. You know I’ve made the argument to the Chinese publicly, I’ll make the same argument to you today, it’s nothing different.

“This is not a bilateral issue. It’s a global threat to the planet. And we need to be talking to each other because we’re the two biggest economies in the world and we’re the two biggest emitters in the world. And we have a common interest in working together to try to reduce emissions and be leaders on this level. So the answer is: I’ve said to China many times publicly, and President Joe Biden has indicated to them, that we are open to resuming climate [talks] and hope that we’ll be able to.”

Xie and Kerry have previously enjoyed a productive relationship. Last year at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, the pair unveiled a surprise pact to cooperate on cutting emissions, including ways to reduce the potent greenhouse gas methane.

Xie said: “But just as everything was going well, Nancy Pelosi invaded Chinese sovereignty, and hurt the Chinese people’s feelings. That was against the spirit of the joint communique [signed at Glasgow].”

Xie also hinted that China was “supportive” of developing country attempts to ensure a flow of funds to help them with the loss and damage they suffer from the climate crisis. Loss and damage, which refers to the devastation wreaked on vulnerable countries by extreme weather, is one of the most contentious issues at the talks. Poor countries have accused the rich of causing the climate crisis while leaving them to bear the brunt of the damage unaided.

China could participate in helping to fund efforts in other developing countries, Xie said. “There is not an obligation on China [to contribute funds] but we are willing to make our contribution … China has already been doing that, [providing] help to other developing countries. Our attitude [to loss and damage] is very supportive and understanding.”

He also praised the “inclusive and constructive attitude” towards loss and damage at the talks. “We strongly support the concerns from developing countries, especially the most vulnerable countries, for addressing loss and damage because China is also a developing country and we also suffered a lot from extreme weather events,” Xie said, speaking through a translator. “It is not the obligation of China to provide financial support under the UNFCCC.”

A senior developed country diplomat told the Guardian that Xie’s words should not be interpreted as indicating China’s willingness to pay into a formal loss and damage fund, of the kind that developing countries are demanding.

China already undertakes some activities and funding to help developing countries cut their emissions and cope with the impacts of extreme weather, including sharing early warning data with poor nations. “This could be referring to those efforts,” said the official.

Wednesday was finance day at the Cop, but there were few major announcements of new funding from rich counties. The UK said it would allow some debt payment deferrals for countries hit by climate disasters, while Austria and New Zealand put forward funding for loss and damage, which is the cost of rebuilding in poorer nations after unavoidable climate impacts.

For the US, Kerry unveiled a new voluntary carbon trading market scheme with the aim of boosting private investment in clean energy projects in developing countries. Kerry said the new initiative, called the energy transition accelerator, will be created in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund to help deliver trillions of dollars of investment.

For many of the countries that require climate finance, one of the key issues emerging at Cop27 has been calls for reform of the World Bank. The Guardian asked the president of the bank, David Malpass, whether he denied the science of climate change. He was unwilling to respond.

World leaders had largely left the conference by Wednesday afternoon, leaving their negotiating teams to continue the talks into next week. There are still divisions between developed and developing countries over how to approach loss and damage, but participants said the talks were going well.


Fiona Harvey in Sharm el-Sheikh

The GuardianTramp

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