US, China to seek climate progress in talks before Dubai summit

A worker holds a charging cable next to electric buses at Antuoshan charging station in Shenzhen, China (Hector RETAMAL)
A worker holds a charging cable next to electric buses at Antuoshan charging station in Shenzhen, China (Hector RETAMAL)

The United States and China, the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, said Thursday that they will hold climate talks this weekend in California, raising new hopes for headway at the COP28 summit in Dubai.

The talks, on the eve of an expected US visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, will take place at the Sunnylands desert resort -- memorable as the site of Xi's first US summit after he assumed power a decade ago.

US climate envoy John Kerry will welcome his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua from Saturday through Tuesday at the estate near Palm Springs, the two governments said.

The two sides will discuss "enhanced implementation and ambition and efforts to promote a successful COP28," the US State Department said in a statement.

Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said the two sides "will have an in-depth exchange of views on promoting action and cooperation on climate change and supporting the success of COP28 in Dubai."

World leaders and climate negotiators will gather in Dubai from November 30 for the latest UN-led summit as record-shattering temperatures, rising wildfires and worsening disasters heighten alarm about the fate of the planet.

The United States and China, the world's two largest economies and frequent adversaries, are together responsible for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for rising temperatures, with a goal of checking warming to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels looking increasingly out of reach.

The US-China meeting "is an encouraging sign" for COP28, said Rachel Cleetus, a climate expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"The world is in a dire situation. So having the opportunity to find some breakthroughs and areas of collaborative agreement ahead of time will be important," she said.

- Deadlock on new fund -

One key issue at the Dubai summit will be hammering out details of a so-called loss and damage fund, which would compensate the poorest nations as they cope with the consequences of climate change -- not simply assisting them in adapting.

US President Joe Biden's administration supports a fund but insists that China put money in it alongside wealthy countries, knowing that the idea already faces shaky prospects in a divided Congress where the rival Republican Party is full of climate skeptics.

China, while now by far the largest carbon emitter, argues that the United States bears more responsibility historically and that emerging countries should not face constraints that never held back the West.

The United States has also clashed with some least-developed countries and green activists over its call to house the loss and damage fund within the World Bank, the Washington-based development institution whose largest contributor is the United States, rather than as a new offshoot of the UN climate body.

In a letter sent Thursday to Kerry, a coalition of environmental groups called for the United States to prioritize an early agreement on the loss and damage fund to "create the goodwill and trust needed to help secure other key wins" in Dubai.

Cleetus said in turn that China could create goodwill by signing a global pledge backed by the United States and European Union on slashing methane, which has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but is far more potent.

China has pledged action on methane but not signed the pledge. China's methane emissions come mostly from coal mining, a sensitive area for domestic interests.

Xi is expected to visit San Francisco this month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, in his first meeting with Biden in a year.

Despite wide friction with China on areas from Taiwan to technological exports to human rights, the Biden administration has said that it sees climate as one area to work together.