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Methane 'front and center' in US-China climate talks, John Kerry says

·Senior Producer and Writer
·3-min read

The stop-and-start diplomacy between the U.S. and China over climate change may finally be gaining momentum after John Kerry, America's top diplomat on the issue, met with his Chinese counterpart Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

That meeting, the first in-person sit-down between the two parties in months, came right before Kerry spoke with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer for a wide-ranging interview.

“I just came from that meeting,” he said when the topic of China came up, adding that he would be gathering with the Chinese again in Berlin later this week and that officials were making progress.

The talks between the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases focus on one issue in particular: methane.

“Methane was an afterthought at our last meetings [but] now, it's front and center and methane is where you can get some of the fastest reductions in greenhouse gases,” Kerry said.

If nations achieve the goal of a 30% global reduction in methane by 2030, Kerry added, “astonishingly it is the equivalent of every car in the world, every truck in the world, every ship in the world, every airplane in the world, going to zero emissions by 2030.”

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua take part a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum 2022 (WEF) in the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland May 24, 2022.  REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua take part a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum 2022 (WEF) in Davos on May 24 (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann)

The chemical compound, composed of one carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms, is a powerful greenhouse gas that's more than 25 times as effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, according to the Environment Protection Agency.

Many associate methane with being a byproduct of the digestive process of livestock, but it's also released into the atmosphere from a variety of human activities like producing energy and filling up landfills.

In the U.S., nearly a third of the methane emissions comes from natural gas and petroleum systems followed by livestock at 27%, with landfill emissions coming in third at 17%. Methane can also be emitted naturally.

Kerry says global warming is making that problem worse, noting that “because of the thawing of permafrost, [methane] just bubbles up in the Arctic, in Siberia, various places and it's a genuine threat.”

‘The promises made in Glasgow’

The talks with China set for the coming months are covering a host of other climate change topics such as how future decisions will be made, the transition from coal to other energy sources, and deforestation.

The parties will “work together to see how we can implement the promises made in Glasgow,” says Kerry, referencing 2021’s UN Climate Change Conference that took place in the Scottish city. The U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration had a section set aside for the threat of methane.

In a speech Thursday in Washington on the overall U.S.-China relationship, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that both sides have no choice but to cooperate on the climate front. In Glasgow, “the world's hopes were buoyed” by the promise to address methane and coal, he said, adding that “climate is not about ideology, it's about math.”

“There's simply no way to solve climate change without China's leadership,” he says.

While China emits the most greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. comes in second. The U.S. has pledged to sharply reduce methane emissions, largely by cutting emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. Kerry and his team hope more specific global agreements and actions from China could be in the offing.

“The progress that the United States and China make together, including through the working group established by the Glasgow Declaration, is vital to our success in avoiding the worst consequences of this crisis,” Blinken said. "I urge China to join us in accelerating the pace of these shared efforts.”

Correction: A previous version of this post misquoted Kerry when discussing permafrost. It is the thawing of the frozen ground, not the flowing, that is leading for more natural methane releases.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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