Canadian minister makes rare China trip for talks on climate, biodiversity

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault on Saturday leaves for Beijing to join talks on fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity, the first Canadian minister to go to China in four years.

A month ago, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry visited China for similar discussions. Other G7 countries including France and Germany have also sent climate representatives since COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted.

"I'm hoping that we can have open and frank conversations about a number of issues relating to climate change," Guilbeault told Reuters on Friday. Both Canada and China are large emitters and "maybe there are ways we can cooperate", he said.

Guilbeault, a former advocate for environmental groups including Greenpeace, will attend the annual meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), an climate advisory group to the Chinese government, from Aug. 28-30.

Guilbeault said two important issues he wants to bring up are methane emissions reductions and a global renewable energy target, which is being discussed ahead of the United Nations climate change conference later this year.

"There's a lot of low hanging fruits in terms of methane emission," he said. "This is a conversation we can have with the Chinese government and... maybe we could work on that together."

Guilbeault said he also wants to follow up on a U.N. nature summit hosted by Canada and presided over by China late last year, which culminated in a global deal to protect the ecosystems that prop up half the world economy.

Canada is seeking China's cooperation on the climate despite tensions, including recent allegations that Beijing interfered in the last two federal elections, and after a long standoff involving two Canadian men that ended in 2021.

Chinese authorities took two men, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, into custody in December 2018 shortly after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, on a U.S. warrant.

The men were released on the same day in September 2021 when the U.S. Justice Department dropped its extradition request for Meng and she returned to China.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by David Gregorio)