COP26: China and US agree to boost climate co-operation

United States Climate Envoy, John Kerry

CHINA and the US have agreed to boost climate co-operation over the next decade, in a surprise announcement at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The world’s two biggest CO2 emitters pledged to act in a joint declaration.

It says both sides will “recall their firm commitment to work together” to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

They called for stepped-up efforts to close the “significant gap” that remains to achieve that target.

Scientists say that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C will help humanity avoid the worst climate impacts. This is compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

At Paris in 2015, world leaders pledged to try to keep the world from warming by more than between 1.5C to 2C through sweeping emissions cuts.

China’s top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters that on climate change “there is more agreement between China and US than divergence”.

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to hold a virtual meeting as early as next week. The two countries are seen as global rivals on a number of issues.

In Wednesday’s rare joint declaration, there were steps agreed on a range of issues including methane emissions, the transition to clean energy, and de-carbonisation.

But China refused to join an agreement earlier this week to limit methane – a harmful greenhouse gas. The agreement was signed by nearly 100 other countries. China has instead pledged to develop a “national plan” to address methane.

Mr Xie was followed by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who said the US and China “have no shortage of differences, but on climate, co-operation is the only way to get this job done”.
“Every step matters right now and we have a long journey ahead of us,” he said.

Perhaps the most important clue as to the significance of this statement is in the last bit of the title – a joint declaration on enhancing climate action in the 2020s.

If the world wants to keep the 1.5C temperature threshold in sight, then the steps taken to limit carbon emissions in the next nine years are absolutely critical.

While China has been reluctant to tackle its domestic coal emissions in the short term, this statement is a recognition of the urgency of action.

So the joint steps agreed – on methane, forests and technology transfer – are important symbolically and also potentially in emissions terms.

The agreement is also a recognition by both sides that there is a massive gap between the efforts of countries to limit emissions to date, and what science says is necessary for a safer world.

Closing that gap means a strong agreement here in Glasgow.The optics and timing of this statement, regardless of the contents, certainly give that a boost.

Last week, US President Joe Biden criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping for not turning up to the summit in person.

“The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader – not showing up, come on,” Mr Biden said, adding that Xi Jinping’s absence was a “big mistake”.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, followed by the US. In September Mr Xi announced that China will aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, with a plan to hit peak emissions before 2030. The US is aiming for net-zero by 2050. – BBC News

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