BALI, Indonesia — President Biden and President Xi Jinping of China agreed on Monday to restart talks between their countries as a part of international climate negotiations, a breakthrough in the hassle to avert catastrophic global warming.
Talks between China and the USA over climate had been frozen for months, amid rising tensions between the 2 countries over trade, Taiwan and a bunch of security issues. China suspended all cooperation with the USA, including around climate change, in August as retaliation for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
However the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies — and the 2 biggest sources of fossil fuel emissions which can be warming the planet — met for greater than three hours on Monday afternoon ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, and emerged to say their representatives would return to the negotiating table.
The announcement reverberated nearly 6,000 miles away in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, where delegates and activists on the United Nations climate conference, generally known as COP27, were hoping for news that would spur more aggressive climate motion from countries around the globe.
“This is nice news for the climate talks and for climate motion,” said Nathaniel Keohane, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an environmental group based in Washington.
Hundreds of diplomats and activists in Egypt were hyper-focused on Mr. Biden’s Bali meeting with Mr. Xi.
“Loads is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a Beijing-based policy adviser for Greenpeace, an environmental group. He said the USA and China needed to send a signal that the existential threat to humanity posed by climate change was value putting aside their differences.
Mr. Biden looked as if it would push Mr. Xi on climate cooperation in his opening remarks in Bali before the bilateral meeting on the Chinese delegation’s hotel.
“The world expects, I think, China and the USA to play key roles in addressing global challenges, from climate changes to food insecurity, and to — for us to find a way to work together,” Mr. Biden said. “America stands able to just do that — work with you — if that’s what you desire.”
After the meeting, the White House released an announcement saying the 2 leaders “agreed to empower key senior officials to take care of communication and deepen constructive efforts” on climate change and other issues.
John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, and his counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, have had no formal negotiations in Sharm el Sheikh, where delegates representing nearly 200 countries are combating the query of whether industrialized countries should compensate developing nations for loss and damage from climate disasters.
The 2 men, who’ve known one another for 20 years, have met casually at the least seven times at COP27, an administration official said. They’ve been seen speaking together in public — at one point, Mr. Xie affectionately clasped Mr. Kerry’s arm — and Mr. Kerry has been spotted walking into the Chinese delegation’s office.
On Monday, neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Xie would answer questions on what getting a green light from their bosses would mean for the remainder of their time on the climate conference.
The renewed talks come at a pivotal moment within the fight to limit global warming. Negotiators representing nearly 200 countries on the talks in Egypt are struggling to seek out common ground between wealthy and poor nations.
“Countries prefer to hide between the U.S. and China and say, ‘The 2 biggest polluters aren’t working together, aren’t doing much, so why should we?’” said Bernice Lee, a climate policy expert at Chatham House, a policy institute in Britain. After they come together around ambition, she said, it removes that argument.
The discussions also come as countries position themselves to dominate the industries like solar, wind and batteries that may help the world pivot from fossil fuels.
America is poised to compete aggressively with China relating to the green economy following a landmark climate law signed by Mr. Biden this summer that may pump $370 billion into renewable energy and electric vehicles. When Mr. Biden appeared on the climate talks in Egypt on Friday, he said the funding would clear the way in which for American innovation that will drive down the price of solar, wind and other renewable energy.
America and China are the 2 largest emitters of greenhouse gases, which have already warmed the planet a median of 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels. If temperature rise passes 1.5 degrees, scientists warn, the likelihood of catastrophic climate impact significantly increases.
Previous deals between the USA and China helped pave the way in which for the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was the primary global warming pact during which each developed and developing nations pledged to chop greenhouse gases.
“Can we imagine meeting 1.5 without the USA and China talking to one another for the remainder of this decade?” Mr. Li said. “I can’t see that.”
But it surely stays unclear how renewed cooperation between Washington and Beijing might translate into concrete agreements at COP27, which began on Nov. 6 and is scheduled to finish on Nov. 18.
The 2 countries are at odds on several fronts.
America wants negotiators at COP27 to reaffirm a commitment to maintain warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but China is resisting because that will require it to commit to deeper emissions cuts.
The one largest issue facing negotiators in Egypt is whether or not to create a fund to assist poor countries deal with the loss and damage from continuing climate disasters — just like the devastating floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, or the necessity to relocate island communities due to rising sea levels.
The Biden administration is resisting the creation of a latest fund, partly since it is unlikely to secure any money from Congress, and in addition since the administration doesn’t wish to be held answerable for skyrocketing global disaster costs.
Mr. Kerry has also said that China should contribute to any latest pot of cash that is likely to be created, given its large and growing contribution to the worldwide warming. That has not gone over well with China, which is clinging to its status within the U.N. climate body as a developing country and never an industrialized nation.
“It will not be the duty of China to offer financial support” under the U.N. climate rules, Mr. Xie said on Wednesday. Beijing is ready to spend money to assist poorer countries, he said, but only through separate channels.
“Each countries are under pressure on the COP to mobilize more climate finance for poor countries,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor on the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She said she hoped that will likely be the main target when Mr. Kerry and Mr. Xie sit down for substantive discussions.