John Kerry says thawing U.S.-China tensions could make a huge difference to climate fight

Kerry said he hopes the resumption of diplomatic talks with China can make a “huge difference” in the fight to prevent the worst of what the climate emergency has in store.

Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry on Wednesday said he hopes that the resumption of diplomatic talks with China can make a “huge difference” in the fight to prevent the worst of what the climate emergency has in store.

“We very much hope to be able to find the pathway to a breakthrough that could make a huge difference,” Kerry told CNBC’s Tania Bryer at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Asked whether he had met with China’s Vice Premier Liu He at WEF, Kerry replied, “I know that he is here. I’ve not yet had a chance to either bump into him or see him, but I’d be happy to. It would be something that I would want to do.”

The U.S. and China formally resumed stalled climate talks with China late last year following a meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping.

The announcement came during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where many delegates had expressed deep concern about the lack of cooperation between the world’s two largest economies and top greenhouse gas emitters.

A White House readout of the meeting at the time said that Biden and Xi had “agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication and deepen constructive efforts on these and other issues.”

Kerry said Wednesday that U.S. diplomats had since had several meetings with their Chinese counterparts, “and we will be talking very shortly.”

Loss and damage

Government ministers and negotiators from nearly 200 countries agreed at COP27 to create a new fund to compensate poor nations for the “loss and damage” they’re experiencing as a result of extreme weather worsened by climate change.

The summit made history as the first to see the topic of loss and damage funding formally make it onto the COP27 agenda — 30 years after the issue was first raised by climate-vulnerable countries.

Speaking ahead of COP27, Kerry said Washington would not be “obstructing” talks on loss and damage in Sharm el-Sheikh. His comments meant that, for the first time ever, the U.S. was finally willing to discuss reparations at the U.N. climate conference.

Asked how much the loss and damage fund is worth and where the money will come from, Kerry replied, “Those questions are legitimate, but they were all left specifically to the process this year to try and provide the answers to those things.”

Kerry said it is typically the case that the countries least responsible for the climate crisis were being hit the hardest by its impacts.

“You don’t have to work hard, unless you have no heart and no brain, to understand the degree to which justice is critical, inclusivity is critical, and action is critical. Urgent action to begin to reduce those emissions fast enough that we do what the scientists are telling us we must do which is avoid the worst consequences of the crisis,” Kerry said.

“We only avoid the worst consequences if we can hold the Earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees — and we’re on the edge,” he continued.

“There are some scientists who will tell you we have already blown past it, there are some who will tell you, ‘no, we may be to have a little overshoot but we can do a claw back and come back and hold onto the 1.5.’ All I know is we’re not on track for 1.5, we should be, we need to be, and we need to do everything in our power to move in that direction,” Kerry said.

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