Mr. Kerry Goes to Beijing Amid China’s Hotter Climate, Cooler Economy

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It’s too hot for a cold war.

US climate envoy John Kerry traveled to Beijing this week to convince the Chinese government that massive changes are needed on both sides to ensure the planet doesn’t become an even hotter, more flood-wrecked version of its current self.

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The US and China are responsible for almost half of all polluting emissions in the world, yet China is No. 1 by a substantial margin. But can these two occasionally bitter rivals who wrestle on everything from trade to military advancement to basic human rights see eye-to-eye on reversing climate change?

China has endured an extraordinary heatwave this summer, with temperatures consistently pushing above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On Sunday, the temperature in the village of Sanbao hit 126 degrees, the highest ever recorded in the country’s history. The US has suffered a similar fate, with more than 70 million people in the South and Southwest facing extreme heat. In Arizona, some have even been treated for second-degree burns just from walking on the sidewalk. And for an added extreme-climate twist: Both countries have experienced debilitating floods that killed some residents and displaced thousands more.

The US and China each have robust goals for reducing emissions but achieving them is another story:

  • While some experts agree the US can meet its goal of cutting emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, independent researcher Rhodium Group begs to differ. The firm reported that the US is on track to reduce emissions by only 24% to 35% by 2030, and it’s likely not going to meet its goal by 2035 either.
  • China aims to become carbon-neutral by 2060, but rapid coal expansion flies in the face of that. In 2022, China permitted the construction of the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants per week, The Wall Street Journal reported, a point which garnered a very diplomatic statement from Kerry to Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua: “China has been doing an incredible job of building out renewables. But on the other hand, we see new coal coming online, which undoes the benefit of that.”

Smooth Talk ‘Em, John: Kerry’s job is to charm China into working on climate issues while avoiding the charge that the US wants to oust it from being a top economic and military superpower.

In her recent visit to Beijing, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the US isn’t pursuing a “winner-take-all” fight with China, echoing similar comments from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Those words don’t necessarily track with the Biden administration’s attempt to keep advanced AI semiconductor chips from Chinese companies. But considering that China’s recent disappointing economic growth data was due in no small part to weaker Western consumption, further cooperation can only help the Earth as well as its two–largest economies.