China and US renew commitment to tackling climate crisis but differences remain

Xie Zhenhua said he’d had ‘very constructive discussions’ with John Kerry at Cop27 but there’s no change on finance issues

China and the US have renewed their partnership to tackle the climate crisis, and are working closely and productively on ways of bringing down greenhouse gas emissions, China’s head of delegation has said.

The surprise news from Xie Zhenhua, who briefed a small group of journalists at the Cop27 UN climate summit in Egypt on Saturday, comes as a rare moment of progress amid a conference mired in stalemate and bitter fighting between developed and developing countries.

Xie said he and John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, had enjoyed “very constructive” discussions. “We have had a close and active dialogue, that was overall very constructive. [We want to] ensure the success of Cop27 and exchange opinions on our differences.”

His words reflected a warm and personal dialogue. “I have a lot of respect for Mr Kerry. I admire his professional attitude and love. We have been working together for 20 years and share a common wish.”

Relations between China and the US hit a new low before the start of this conference, after House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, visited the disputed island of Taiwan this summer. All negotiations were broken off, including those on the climate.

This was a severe blow to the prospects of Cop27, as at Cop26 in Glasgow last year the world’s two biggest emitters, and two largest economies, surprised the world by forging a “climate dialogue” to work as partners on reducing emissions, including those of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

But Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Bali earlier this week, and relations have thawed.

Xie and Kerry had already met for informal conversations last week. Xie revealed on Saturday that they intended to carry on with formal meetings after Cop27, in the hope of forging greater progress on vital issues such as low-carbon technology and reducing emissions of methane, the powerful greenhouse gas.

He said: “We have agreed that after this Cop we will continue formal conversations, including face to face meetings.”

Kerry was negotiating from his hotel room on Saturday, after testing positive for Covid-19 on Friday night.

The talks dragged a full day past their Friday evening deadline, amid complaints of “chaos” and a lack of transparency in the negotiations.

China has also been closely involved in negotiations over loss and damage at the Cop, one of the most vexed issues. The EU launched a proposal for a new fund to provide financial assistance to poor countries suffering the most devastating impacts of extreme weather.

The EU wants to widen the list of potential donors to such a fund. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in 1992, only countries classed as developed 30 years ago are asked to provide financial assistance.

But countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Russia now have much bigger economies, including in some cases, high revenues from fossil fuels, and their emissions have ballooned.

Xie repeated the Chinese position that it was still a developing country, and as such had no obligation to provide financial assistance to poor nations. He said China voluntarily provided help to countries in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, including help with early warning systems for extreme weather, access to renewable energy technology, and “capacity building” for governments.

“[In a] loss and damage fund, if there is any fund, the responsibility to provide funds lies with developed countries,” he said. “That is their responsibility and obligation. Developing countries can contribute on a voluntary basis.”

He added: “The recipients should be developing countries. I hope it will be provided to fragile countries first … and those who need it most, first.”

Another issue on which there was still no agreement by Saturday late afternoon was on the goal to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. That goal was agreed last year at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, but some countries at Cop27 have attempted to unpick that commitment, and the requirement for countries to keep updating their national plans on emissions cuts on a yearly basis, until they are in line with the 1.5C goal.

Xie repeated that China was a supporter of both the Paris agreement and the Glasgow climate pact. “I believe we should follow the principles and spirit of the Paris agreement and the Glasgow pact, and we should make a great effort, but should not add more burden to developing countries,” he said. “Developed countries should take a lead in reducing emissions and provide developing countries with finance and technology to support their need to improve their capacity [to cut emissions].”


Fiona Harvey in Sharm el-Sheikh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Is China doing enough to combat the climate crisis?
While it appears committed to renewable energy goals, China’s international commitments fall short of what experts say is needed

Helen Davidson

11, Nov, 2022 @7:55 AM

Article image
EU reversal of stance on loss and damage turns tables on China at Cop27
China is responsible for more cumulative emissions than any country other than the US

Fiona Harvey in Sharm el-Sheikh

18, Nov, 2022 @1:38 PM

Article image
‘Significant’ moves on climate disaster funds lift Cop27 hopes
Small but symbolic moves at summit where finance is critical include new loss and damage money and debt relief

Damian Carrington Environment editor

09, Nov, 2022 @11:18 AM

Article image
Imprisoned activist’s lawyer denied access at Egyptian jail during climate summit – as it happened
British-Egyptian Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has been on hunger strike for months, stopped drinking water when Cop27 began

Bibi van der Zee, Natalie Hanman and Helena Horton

10, Nov, 2022 @6:09 PM

Article image
IPCC, methane and carbon offsetting: Cop27 jargon buster
World leaders meeting for UN climate talks in Egypt are under pressure to take action. Here are some commonly used terms and what they mean

Fiona Harvey Environment editor

05, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
How UN secretary general became an outspoken voice for climate action
António Guterres is heading to Cop27 for what is likely to be another blistering attack on complacency and foot-dragging

Fiona Harvey in Sharm el-Sheikh

04, Nov, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Cop27 protesters will be corralled in desert away from climate conference
Visitors to Sharm el-Sheikh also face extensive searches and video surveillance in taxis

Ruth Michaelson

31, Oct, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
‘Fight of our lives’: what happened on the first day of Cop27?
From a bombastic Boris Johnson speech to an impassioned plea from the Barbados PM, here’s how first full day played out

Guardian staff

08, Nov, 2022 @1:31 PM

Article image
Ukraine president says peace is vital for saving climate; US called out for blocking ‘loss and damage’ funds – as it happened
Volodymyr Zelenskiy appears at climate summit via video link; climate experts say US has acted ‘in bad faith’ for decades

Oliver Holmes and Natalie Hanman

08, Nov, 2022 @7:56 PM

Article image
The 1.5C climate goal died at Cop27 – but hope must not
Every fraction of a degree increases human suffering, so the fight to end the fossil fuel industry must ramp up

Damian Carrington Environment editor

20, Nov, 2022 @12:31 PM