US and China enter new phase in climate diplomacy

By Zack Colman, Karl Mathiesen | 05/07/2024 06:22 AM EDT

The world’s top two emitters are breaking in new climate diplomats at a crucial moment.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry, center, speaks to his Chinese counterpart in 2014 alongside John Podesta.

John Kerry (center), the former top U.S. climate diplomat, has been replaced in the position by White House adviser John Podesta (right), who will have to build a rapport with his Chinese counterpart. Jim Bourg/AP

New U.S. international climate lead John Podesta and his equally fresh Chinese counterpart will meet in Washington this month — a sign that the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters are entering a new, more challenging phase of negotiations on how to address global warming.

The talks between Podesta and Liu Zhenmin promise to be fractious. And they will probably lack the personal touch that marked the long relationship between their predecessors, John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua.

China is openly warning the U.S. and its European allies against widening trade conflicts aimed at undercutting Beijing’s dominance in electric vehicles, renewable energy, battery production and critical mineral supply chains. The U.S., in turn, accuses China of dragging its heels on curbing its growing coal power fleet and has made no secret that it wants China to step up its aid for poor countries to clean up their economies.


None of these tensions are new, but the close relationship between Podesta and Liu’s predecessors often masked the acrimony between the two rivals.