For nearly a year, talks between the planet’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States, have been suspended as the impacts of global warming have only grown more intense in the form of deadly heat, drought, floods and wildfires.
John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate change, is set to arrive in Beijing on Sunday to restart climate negotiations with the Chinese government. He is slated to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, and other officials for three days of talks, with the goal of finding ways to work together on climate change despite simmering tensions between the two countries on trade, human rights and other issues. Here’s what you should know:
Why does this meeting matter?
The United States and China are the world’s biggest economies, the world’s biggest investors in renewable energy and, most critically, the world’s biggest fossil fuel polluters. Together they spew about 40 percent of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Analysts agree that the speed with which the two countries slash emissions and help other nations transition to wind, solar and other forms of clean energy will determine whether the planet can avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
“There is no solution to climate change without China,” said David Sandalow, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations now at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “The world’s two largest emitters should be talking to each other about this existential threat.”
…What is the likely outcome?
China-watchers are keeping expectations low for this meeting, in part because the Chinese government, like most governments, doesn’t like to appear as if it has been pressured to act. Observers don’t expect big new pronouncements on emissions targets or cutting coal.
“I don’t think they’re going to want to seem like John Kerry came there and told them what to do,” said Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
One possible outcome is that both countries agree to regular U.S.-China meetings on climate change. Experts say that would be a strong outcome and could smooth the way for the United Nations climate summit slated for November in Dubai.
Ms. Qin, the energy analyst, noted that recent visits to Beijing by Mr. Blinken, the secretary of state, and Ms. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, did not bring about major agreements. Instead, Ms. Qin said, these meetings “might serve as groundwork for a top leaders’ summit later this year, which is where we might expect something more tangible.”