US and UK climate envoys visit China

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy on climate, and Alok Sharma, the UK’s president for COP26, have visited China in quick succession in the last few days.

The two visits signal the ramping up of climate diplomacy before the UN climate negotiations in Glasgow this November.

High on the agenda for both diplomats was coal. In particular, pushing China to commit to end support for overseas coal power projects.

Before arriving in China on Sunday, Sharma acknowledged China’s leading role in renewable energy deployment, in a virtual presentation to a forum held in Taiyuan, the capital of coal-rich Shanxi province. He called for “cooperation between our nations to get the energy transition moving faster”.

On Monday, he met face-to-face with Xie Zhenhua and via video call with Han Zheng, politburo standing committee member, Zhang Jianhua, head of the National Energy Administration, and Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, among others. The issue of overseas coal investments and the need to green the Belt and Road was reportedly discussed in meetings with Zhang Jianhua. Cooperation on green financing, in which the UK and China are world leaders, was also touted as an area for increased cooperation

A more strained tone characterised Kerry’s last week. According to the South China Morning Post, Kerry arrived with a list of suggestions as to how China should increase its climate action, including a public commitment to the Paris Agreement’s aspirational 1.5C target and an end to financing for overseas coal power plants. In comments to the media, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded that China takes climate action on its own terms, and not at the behest of others. Domestic media coverage also emphasised the positive international response to Xi Jinping’s carbon neutrality pledge last September.