The US and China made a rare joint declaration to co-operate on climate change, which the Chinese special envoy to the UN COP26 summit on Wednesday described as an “existential crisis” but did not shift on the country’s goals.
China’s Xie Zhenhua said climate change was becoming increasingly urgent and severe. By working together the world’s biggest economies — and the biggest polluters — would “bring more benefit to our two peoples”.
The US and China said they would continue beyond COP26 to discuss concrete and pragmatic actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions.
“Our two teams reached agreement on a joint declaration this afternoon,” he said, in a press briefing that took place in advance of a separate event by his US counterpart, John Kerry.
Kerry said the two countries had worked “in good faith and found common ground” with a shared interest in success at COP26.
US president Joe Biden only last week criticised Chinese and Russian leaders for not attending the UN climate talks in Glasgow.
Kerry said the US and China had their differences but co-operation was the “only way to get the job done”. Climate change was not discretionary and was rooted in science, he noted.
The countries were also negotiating on a virtual summit to be held between Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping, Kerry said.
“We need to think big and be responsible,” Xie said earlier, also emphasising that co-operation on climate change was the only choice.
The two countries said they intended to develop their respective long-term strategies aimed at net zero greenhouse gas emissions and carbon neutrality.
Kerry said he believed China “may well have peaked” in its emissions, and he hoped it would try to accelerate phasing them down ahead of its target.
China has committed to reach a peak in emissions by 2030 and then decline, with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.
Kerry said that the agreement included the “phase-down of unabated coal in this decade as quickly as achievable.”
Xie said a “consensus” had been reached on a series of critical issues around the Paris climate agreement to limit the rise in temperatures to below 2C and ideally 1.5C.
This included national country targets, the so-called Paris framework, and climate finance from rich countries for developing countries. Both sides would “work jointly and with other parties to ensure successful COP26”.
They also intended to “maximise international investment and finance in support of the transition from carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based energy to green, low-carbon and renewable energy in developing countries.”
This included building a global carbon market.
However, China intended to develop its own national plan for methane, the potent warming gas.
The US and EU pledged last week to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 from 2020 levels, while China declined to join the pact.
China and the US would also each implement phasing down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons.
On deforestation, both sides committed merely to “strengthen goals” in this area.
UN secretary-general, António Guterres welcomed the agreement, saying “tackling the climate crisis requires international co-operation and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction”.
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