China and the United States, the largest two emitters of CO₂, will cooperate more closely over the next decade to combat climate change. They announced this yesterday at the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
By 2030, they want to reduce methane emissions faster and phase out coal more quickly, although no concrete targets were mentioned.
Last night at the COP26, the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow was a bit of a surprise. Suddenly there were the press conferences of the Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua and his American colleague John Kerry. Each separately, but with a common message.
The two countries announced that they would work more closely together to combat climate change and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. They commit to a faster reduction of methane emissions by 2030 and phase out coal more quickly during the same period. They also want stricter laws against deforestation.
However, Xie and Kerry did not stick to concrete targets. Instead, they only emphasized that it must be faster and more ambitious if the world wants to limit warming to one and a half degrees, as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Earlier at the Climate Change Conference, China refused to sign an agreement of more than 100 countries to reduce methane emissions in the short term sharply. The US did. China did promise a national action plan.
Until now, China has generally remained quite invisible at the conference but is now changing that by announcing a joint commitment despite the many contradictions between China and the US.
“The US and China have many disagreements, but when it comes to climate, the only option is cooperation,” said John Kerry. A similar message from Xie: “On climate change, there are more similarities than differences between China and the US.”
After months of work by US President Joe Biden and his climate envoy Kerry, the deal came as a surprise. According to a Chinese diplomat, about 30 meetings have taken place in the past 10 months.
A virtual meeting is scheduled for early next week between the presidents of both countries, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.
During his press conference, John Kerry said that the agreement focuses on the short term. “China and the US are going to take a whole host of important measures, not in the long term, not sometime in the distant future, but now, during this decade when it’s needed.”
China is the largest emitter of CO₂ in the world, followed by the US. So the announced collaboration is being cautiously welcomed by politicians from other countries and climate activists though there is also doubt.
Frans Timmermans, European Commissioner for the Green Deal and climate negotiator at the summit for the European Union, talks about “encouraging” cooperation. “It shows that China and the US realize that climate transcends other things, and it certainly helps us find an agreement here at the summit.”
The US branch of the environmental and climate NGO WWF sees “new hope” that the 1.5-degree target could be met but emphasizes that the entire global economy will have to adapt. Greenpeace expects both countries to show even more involvement.