Kerry: Climate change will depend on China

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Wednesday said this week’s talks between the U.S. and China fell short of U.S. goals to engage China in climate-change efforts.

In 50-minute remarks delivered at the National Press Club, Kerry said while “real progress” was made in the two-day economic summit that concluded Wednesday, more significant agreements weren’t reached between the two countries. Kerry said those are critical before U.S. officials can feel confident in success at the United Nations’ global emissions summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

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“On climate change, perhaps the single greatest challenge we face, more could have and should have been achieved,” Kerry said.

“We did sign a confidential memorandum of understanding that included language on climate change. But the dates, timelines and road map toward an agreement — the fully defined mutuality of effort between our two countries — did not materialize.”

Kerry’s comments represent a suggestion that the Obama administration needs to try harder in its efforts to engage China this fall as the U.N. conference approaches. Kerry has put the topic foremost on his committee’s agenda this year, describing it as a top priority. Momentum toward a climate-change bill has stalled in the Senate, however, with negotiations suspended until after the congressional recess ends after Labor Day.

The Chinese delegation is in town for a two-day summit with the Obama administration, which has been pressing the Asian nation to be less reliant on exports and embrace more U.S. goods and services.

China has been historically reluctant to embrace emissions limits. Just this month, at the G8 summit, China and India refused to agree to such impositions, arguing they would restrict economic growth in their still-developing countries.

While industrialized powers in the G8 agreed to limit carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, a separate deal could not be reached with China, India and other developing countries to convince them to reduce their carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Specifically, Kerry said Wednesday that if China won’t sign on to the climate-change effort, it will be harder to translate whatever happens in Copenhagen into laws here. "There is no way the U.S. can do this alone.”

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Kerry and the committee’s ranking Republican, Richard Lugar (Ind.), hosted five top Chinese officials at a breakfast on Wednesday, including Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Binggou. Kerry said private talks with the Chinese leaders at the breakfast were “frank and productive.”

Kerry, who visited China in May, compared the effort to engage the Chinese in the climate-change effort to President Richard Nixon’s landmark trip to China in 1972, saying that both efforts did and could change world history. One difference, he said, is that the U.S. population is more knowledgeable now about the impact of pollution and the science behind the climate-change effort than in past generations.

While in China, Kerry said he was impressed at a “sea change” in the Asian economy’s ability to recast itself for the future. Chinese leaders have boosted investments, tripled their wind-energy goals, improved their energy intensity and pledged to produce more electric cars.

Kerry said the U.S. can learn much from China’s commitment to such efforts, reiterating the urgency of reducing carbon emissions.

“Unless we act dramatically and act fast, science tells us our way of life is in jeopardy,” he said.