BALI, Indonesia — President Biden and President Xi Jinping of China agreed on Monday to restart talks between their countries as part of international climate negotiations, a breakthrough in the effort to avert catastrophic global warming.
Talks between China and the United States over climate had been frozen for months, amid rising tensions between the two countries over trade, Taiwan and a host of security issues. China suspended all cooperation with the United States, including around climate change, in August as retaliation for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
But the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies — and the two biggest sources of fossil fuel emissions that are warming the planet — met for more than three hours on Monday afternoon ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, and emerged to say their representatives would return to the negotiating table.
The announcement reverberated nearly 6,000 miles away in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, where delegates and activists at the United Nations climate conference, known as COP27, were hoping for news that could spur more aggressive climate action from countries around the world.
“This is good news for the climate talks and for climate action,” said Nathaniel Keohane, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an environmental group based in Washington.
Thousands of diplomats and activists in Egypt were hyper-focused on Mr. Biden’s Bali meeting with Mr. Xi.
“A lot is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a Beijing-based policy adviser for Greenpeace, an environmental group. He said the United States and China needed to send a signal that the existential threat to humanity posed by climate change was worth putting aside their differences.
Mr. Biden seemed to push Mr. Xi on climate cooperation in his opening remarks in Bali before the bilateral meeting at the Chinese delegation’s hotel.
“The world expects, I believe, China and the United States to play key roles in addressing global challenges, from climate changes to food insecurity, and to — for us to be able to work together,” Mr. Biden said. “The United States stands ready to do just that — work with you — if that’s what you desire.”
After the meeting, the White House released a statement saying the two leaders “agreed to empower key senior officials to maintain communication and deepen constructive efforts” on climate change and other issues.
John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, and his counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, have had no formal negotiations in Sharm el Sheikh, where delegates representing nearly 200 countries are struggling with the question of whether industrialized countries should compensate developing nations for losses and damage from climate disasters.
The two men, who have known each other for 20 years, have met casually at least seven times at COP27, an administration official said. They have been seen speaking together in public — at one point, Mr. Xie affectionately clasped Mr. Kerry’s arm — and Mr. Kerry has been spotted walking into the Chinese delegation’s office.
The renewed talks come at a pivotal moment in the fight to limit global warming.
“Countries like to hide between the U.S. and China and say, ‘The two biggest polluters aren’t working together, aren’t doing much, so why should we?’” said Bernice Lee, a climate policy expert at Chatham House, a policy institute in Britain. “When they come together around ambition, she said, it removes that argument.