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].”