China, US pledge to work together on climate action

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US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping . Photo: Getty Images

At a surprise announcement in the waning days of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the world’s two largest emitters – China and the United States – said they would work together to slow warming during this decade and ensure that the Glasgow climate conference ends in success.

In announcing the “Declaration for Enhanced Climate Action in the 2020s” China’s special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said the two countries would reiterate the importance of the Paris temperature goal of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with a goal of not exceeding 1.5 degrees.

With just a few days remaining to reach a COP26 agreement, he said the countries were focused on developing transparency regulations for reporting and tracking emissions and developing rules for a carbon market.

“Both sides recognize there is a gap between the current efforts and the Paris agreement goals,” Xie said in a news conference Wednesday evening.

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As the world’s two superpowers, he continued, the U.S. and China have a special obligation to work together on keeping the world a peaceful place.

“We need to think big and be responsible,” he said. “We need to actively address climate change and through cooperation bring more benefit to our two peoples and to people around the world.”

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At his own news conference immediately after Xie’s, U.S. special climate envoy John F. Kerry called the declaration “a step we can build on in order to help close the gap” on emissions.

“The United States and China have no shortage of differences,” he added. “But on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done.”

Both envoys on Wednesday said the joint declaration was a product of nearly three dozen negotiating sessions, with diplomats from China and the U.S. meeting in person and virtually over the course of the year.

Kerry said that China had committed to rapidly develop a plan to reduce its methane emissions and to phase down coal “as fast as is achievable.”

The commitment would not usher China into a joint U.S.-European effort to reduce methane emissions nearly a third by 2030, but it was a first recognition from Beijing about the importance of methane in driving up warming.

The surprise declaration was a boost to talks that are still teetering on the edge of failure to reach an agreement. Chinese President Xi Jinping declined to travel to Glasgow, a blow to ambitions to achieve a far-reaching deal to reduce greenhouse gases and avert disastrous levels of global warming, since China is the world’s biggest emitter.

And after over 10 days of talks so far, China has not had a major public presence at the conference, unlike other high-emissions countries such as India and Brazil. Their officials have had high-profile speaking engagements and can easily be spotted wandering national pavilions in the exhibition area of the conference.

Though the details of the declaration were not immediately clear, the emphasis on action within the decade was significant, said Harjeet Singh, a senior adviser for Climate Action Network International.

The proceedings in Glasgow have been criticised for the number of long-term pledges not followed up by short-term commitments. An analysis published by U.N. researchers Tuesday found that “net zero” pledges pegged to the middle of the century would appear to limit warming to about 1.8 degrees Celsius, if achieved. But when only countries’ official emissions-cutting pledges for 2030 were considered, the Earth looked on track to warm 2.5 degrees Celsius.

(The Washington Post)