US China climate agreement

China and the US to work together on cutting emissions

In a press conference, the two superpowers agree to cooperate more and hope for the success of Cop26

China and the US announced a surprise plan to work together on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the crucial next decade, in a strong boost to the Cop26 summit.

The world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters traded insults for the first week of the conference, but towards the conference end unveiled a joint declaration that would see the world’s two biggest economies cooperate closely on the emissions cuts scientists say are needed in the next 10 years to stay within 1.5C.

The remarkable turnaround came as a surprise to the UK hosts, and will send a strong signal to the 190-plus other countries at the talks. The US and China will work together on some key areas, such as cutting methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and emissions from transport, energy and industry.

“Both sides recognise that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris agreement goals, so we will jointly strengthen our Paris efforts and cooperation … to accelerate a green and low carbon transition,” said Xie Zhenhua, China’s head of delegation. “Climate change is becoming an increasingly urgent challenge. We hope this joint declaration will help to achieve success at Cop26.”

Speaking at a virtual business conference on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, President Xi Jinping did not mention the deal directly but said “all of us can embark on a path of green, low-carbon sustainable development… together, we can usher in a future of green development,” he said.

John Kerry commented: “The two largest economies in the world have agreed to work together on emissions in this decisive decade.

“This is a roadmap for our countries and future collaboration. China and the US have no shortage of differences. But cooperation is the only way to get this job done. This is about science, about physics.”

He told the conference: “This declaration is a step that we can build on to close the gap [between the emissions cuts set out so far and those needed]. Every step matters. We have a long journey ahead of us.”

The China-US Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s came despite growing political tensions between the two powers, which had been reflected in the climate talks. In his parting shot at the conference, Joe Biden on Tuesday slammed China’s president, Xi Jinping, for “not showing up”. After that, Xie took a swipe at the US in an interview with the Guardian, saying: “We are not like some countries who withdrew from the Paris agreement after entering into talks.”

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, welcomed the agreement: “Tackling the climate crisis requires international cooperation and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

The announcement followed a call by developing countries for rich nations to come forward with more financial help for vulnerable countries, saying a new draft outcome for the talks was too weak in this regard.

The draft text, published early on Wednesday morning 10th November 2021 by the UK as president of the talks, set out the probable outcome of the Cop26 talks, including a potential requirement for countries to return to the negotiating table next year to beef up their national plans on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The text also set out the scientific case for limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, and expressed “alarm” that emissions were far higher than the levels needed to stay within safe temperature thresholds.

But poor countries said the text needed more emphasis on climate finance, to help them cut carbon and cope with the impacts of climate breakdown.

Aubrey Webson, chair of the Alliance of Small Islands States, which represents 37 of the most at-risk countries, said: “The text provides a basis for moving forward but it needs to be strengthened in key areas in order to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable, particularly on finance. We won’t get the ambition on emissions we need for 1.5C if we don’t scale up the provision of finance, and this includes the long overdue recognition of a separate and additional component for loss and damage.”

He added that the language was too weak: “‘Urging’, ‘calling’, ‘encouraging’ and ‘inviting’ is not the decisive language that this moment calls for. We have limited time left in the Cop to get this right and send a clear message to our children, and the most vulnerable communities, that we hear you and we are taking this crisis seriously.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister and now president of the Asia Society, which works on global climate change agreements, told the BBC that the agreement was “not a game-changer” but still a big step forward.

“The current state of geopolitics between China and the United States is… awful, so the fact that you can extract this climate-specific collaboration agreement between Washington and Beijing right now is an important piece of momentum,” he said.

China refused to join an agreement earlier this week to limit methane – a harmful greenhouse gas but has instead pledged to develop a “national plan” to address the issue.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, followed by the US. In September, Xi announced that China would aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, with a plan to hit peak emissions before 2030.

The US is aiming for net-zero by 2050.

The official press release from the US Department of State can be found here: US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s

And from the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment, here.