Kerry Meets Chinese Officials to Advance Climate Talks Amid Record Heatwave

As an extreme heat wave across Earth’s northern hemisphere fuels record-breaking temperatures in China, Europe, and North America, U.S. special envoy for climate change John Kerry is visiting Beijing this week for high-level discussions on climate-change issues. The resumption of dialogue that had stalled due to geopolitical tensions between the world’s two largest greenhouse-gas emitters is a positive sign, but substantive policy agreements are urgently needed to meet global climate goals and avoid existential catastrophe.

At Sixth Tone, Ding Rui summarized the record-breaking heat wave engulfing China this week:

From a remote village in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region rewriting China’s weather records to multiple cities issuing heat alerts in the past 10 days alone, a widespread and deadly heat wave across China has had devastating consequences, including the loss of at least four lives. 

According to China News Service, Sanbao Village in Xinjiang reached a scorching 52.2 degrees Celsius on Sunday, with authorities predicting temperatures will stay above 35 degrees Celsius until Friday. 

The heat wave has particularly affected northwestern and southeastern parts of the country, with multiple cities grappling with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius over the past 10 days. As a result, over 200 heat alerts were issued by weather stations across different cities on Tuesday alone. Shattering more records, this season has also witnessed the highest number of days with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius since records began in 1961, as reported by China Daily. [Source]

You and I know things are changing,” Kerry told Premier Li Qiang, referencing reports of extreme temperatures in Xinjiang. Kerry, who also met with top foreign policy official Wang Yi and climate counterpart Xie Zhenhua, is the third senior U.S. official to visit Beijing in five weeks, after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Climate negotiations between the U.S. and China were suspended in August of last year as part of the Chinese government’s reaction to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. This meeting in Beijing is the first substantive summit between the U.S. and China on the climate crisis since then.

The main topics of discussion during Kerry’s visit include climate funding for poorer nations, methane and coal reduction, solar tariffs and batteries, and attempts to limit global temperature increases to a range of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius. Jennifer A Dlouhy from Bloomberg outlined the agenda for the climate talks this week:

Negotiations this week are aimed at making headway on a series of issues — including global climate targets, methane abatement and the use of coal-fired power. They’re also expected to lay the groundwork for potential pronouncements at the U.N. General Assembly in September, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in California in November and the U.N. climate summit in Dubai at the end of the year.

[…] Talks are set to proceed on multiple tracks, covering ambitions in addressing climate change, a new loss and damage fund for compensating climate victims and areas for possible bilateral collaboration. Those could include deploying more wind and solar power and handling the intermittent nature of those electricity sources, according to senior U.S. State Department officials, who requested anonymity to discuss private details.

[…E]xperts in climate diplomacy and U.S.-China relations stress that even a formal joint statement from Xie and Kerry’s discussions that commits to keep talking — and to revive a joint working group they agreed to form in November 2021 — would be progress. [Source]

“Our hope is that this can be the beginning of a new definition of cooperation and capacity to resolve differences between us,” Kerry told Wang Yi, adding that President Biden “values his relationship” with Xi Jinping and “looks forward to being able to move forward, change the dynamics.” Wang referred to Kerry as “my old friend.” However, as Al Jazeera described, the Chinese government has refused to separate cooperation on climate change issues from the broader bilateral relationship:

In a commentary published on Sunday, the Xinhua state news agency said recent US-China official interactions are a “good sign for preventing further miscalculations, and steering bilateral relations back on track”. But it added that Beijing was seeking more concessions on the political side – something the US has said it will not provide.

“It is especially true for the White House to bear in mind that seeking to compartmentalize cooperation with – or competition and suppression against – China in bilateral ties is simply unrealistic in practice and unacceptable for Beijing,” Xinhua said.

“For China-US cooperation to be healthy and sustainable, bilateral ties must be treated as a whole,” it said. [Source]

Meanwhile, China continues to suffer from rising temperatures and the resulting environmental consequences. New research has revealed that extreme weather events are causing significant deterioration of cultural relics at UNESCO World Heritage sites in Gansu. Other recent research has shown that climate change on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is bringing heat waves and drought, melting glaciers faster, expanding lakes, and worsening desertification. In Sichuan and Yunnan, droughts are causing a severe decline in hydropower generation that in turn has led to increased electricity prices, rationed electricity supplies, and increased coal-plant operations. An announcement that residents in Sichuan—a province that has traditionally enjoyed a surplus of hydropower—will no longer benefit from a preferential refund policy for electricity consumption was met with outrage online. CDT Chinese editors collected some of the reactions on Weibo and Twitter, including criticisms of Sichuan’s sales of electricity to other provinces, and fears of a repeat of last year’s power outages, high energy prices, and heat-stroke deaths:

苒清_:Are you PUA’ing [manipulating] us in advance, so you can act like dicks and cut off the power just like you did last year? With region-wide power outages and tiered pricing schemes?

圈总嘞拖板孩:Is this some sort of inoculation, meant to prepare us for the worst? Is this how you plan to deal with the problem of an aging population?

不理不理右门卫:First shut off the air conditioning in government office buildings.

黑色幽灵凡:I’m begging you, do your jobs right and ensure the supply of residential electricity in Sichuan. So many people died of heat stroke last year!

Whyatsh:Do these “domestic forces” selling electricity even speak Sichuan dialect?

Chunlin04596859:If things go on like this, sooner or later “local forces” will rise up. [Chinese]


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