John Kerry Visits Shanghai to Talk Global Climate Ambition

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry will be the first Biden administration official to visit China, leading up to President Biden’s virtual Earth Day Leaders Summit. Kerry will be visiting Shanghai and Seoul, South Korea, to discuss “raising global climate ambition” with government officials. Kerry has told reporters that he is “hopeful [but] not confident at this point” about Chinese cooperation, a feeling compounded by the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to RSVP to the U.S. president’s April 22 summit.


Why This Matters: The U.S. and China are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, but their commitments to the Paris agreement have been criticized as not ambitious enough to stop global temperature rise. Since rejoining the Paris agreement in January, President Biden has promised ambitious commitments. The U.S.’s new Nationally Determined Contribution(NDC) is expected to be revealed at the summit and will likely be influenced by Kerry’s world tour. “If the United States were to go to zero tomorrow, we would still have a massive problem of climate crisis. That’s because China is 30 percent and going up,” said Kerry.

Numbers Game: China has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2060, while the U.S. has pledged to reach net-zero by 2050. Experts, however, are urging governments to establish ambitious 2030 goals to kick start a green transition. This week, 300 companies cosigned a letter to President Biden, urging him to commit to 50% emissions cuts by 2030. But while the U.S. works to update its NDC, China’s emissions continue to rise. 

  • The country now represents more than 30% of the world’s carbon emissions, and while the government has made some investments into green energy, it still faces supply obstacles
  • Meanwhile, it has also continued to invest in industrial development, contributing to the return of massive dust storms in Beijing and surrounding areas.
  •  China’s cooperation is necessary to hit the world’s emissions targets, but tensions between the U.S. and China continue to reach new heights.

Where in the World is John Kerry?

In recent months, Kerry has visited India, United Arab Emirates, and Bangladesh to discuss climate goals, but nowhere have tensions been higher than with China. On Tuesday, President Biden sent an unofficial delegation to Taiwan in what one White House official called a “personal signal” of the administration’s commitment to the island’s sovereignty. As Kerry arrives in Shanghai, experts wonder if the visits’ timing was intentional, although the White House has denied it.

The Biden administration has expressed its commitment to compartmentalizing when it comes to relations with China.

President Biden has made it clear, and I’ve made it clear: None of the other issues we have with China — and there are issues — is held hostage to or is engaged in a trade for what we need to do on climate,” said Kerry, referencing U.S. sanctions on China due to human rights violations against the Uyghur ethnic minority. China isn’t the only diplomatic challenge the U.S. faces on its path to net-zero. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also been invited to the April 22 summit but has yet to RSVP.


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