The world’s top two carbon polluters, China and the United States, jointly pledged Thursday to increase their cooperation on climate action despite their strong disagreements on other matters.
In back-to-back news conferences at UN climate talks in Glasgow, Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and US counterpart John Kerry said the two countries would work together to accelerate the emissions reductions required to meet the temperature goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
“The whole point of this is that the steps we’re taking we believe can answer questions people have about the pace at which China is going and help China and us to be able to accelerate our efforts," Kerry said.
China agreed for the first time to crack down on methane leaks, following the lead of the Biden administration’s efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas.
Beijing and Washington agreed to share technology to reduce emissions.
Governments agreed in Paris to jointly cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, with a more stringent target of trying to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius preferred.
Both sides recognise that there is a gap between efforts taken globally to reduce emissions and the goals of the Paris deal, Xie said.
“So we will jointly strengthen climate action and cooperation with respect to our respective national situations," he said.
In a joint declaration, the two countries said they are “alarmed” by recent scientific reports detailing the progress of what they both term “the climate crisis.”
A US-China bilateral agreement gave a huge push to the creation of the historic 2015 Paris accord but that cooperation stopped with the Trump administration, which pulled the US out of the pact. The Biden administration brought the US back in to that deal, but has clashed with China on other issues such as cybersecurity, human rights and Chinese territorial claims.
“While this is not a gamechanger in the way the 2014 US-China climate deal was, in many ways it’s just as much of a step forward given the geopolitical state of the relationship,” said Thom Woodroofe, an expert in US-China climate talks.
“It means the intense level of US-China dialogue on climate can now begin to translate into cooperation.”
The two nations will also establish a bilateral working group that will “meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade,” the declaration said.
Both Washington and Beijing intend to update the world on their new national targets for 2035 in 2025 — a move that is particularly significant for China.
The declaration also said China will “make best efforts to accelerate” its plans to reduce coal consumption in the second half of this decade.
The announcement came as governments from around the world were negotiating in Glasgow about how to build on the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect vulnerable countries from the impacts of global warming.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the move “an important step in the right direction.”
Some experts said the deal was short on commitments that would significantly reduce heat-trapping gases.
“It’s a good sign that the world’s two biggest emitters can actually work together to face the biggest crisis of humanity but there’s not a lot of meat there after the methane stuff,’’ said Byford Tsang a China policy analyst for the European think tank E3G.