US, China pledge to work together to fight climate change

WASHINGTON – The United States and China pledged on Wednesday (Nov 10) to work together to combat climate change in this decade, including cutting methane emissions and phasing out coal.

The deal by the US and China, the world’s two largest emitters of planet-warming greenhouse gases overall, was announced at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow by American climate czar John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.

Experts say the pledge could be the very push that the gathered nations need to unveil a more robust agreement at the end of the summit, informally known as COP26, later this week.

In a joint statement, both countries recognised that the world had so far fallen short of the 2015 Paris Agreement targets to limit global warming, ideally to 1.5 deg C, and stressed “the vital importance of closing that gap as soon as possible”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement, writing on Twitter: “Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

Methane emissions, in particular, must be reduced in the current decade given their role in increasing temperatures, said Washington and Beijing.

The often overlooked greenhouse gas traps more heat than carbon dioxide – meaning that efforts to reduce its emissions can quickly have an effect, buying the world time to reduce fossil fuel usage.

China will develop a national plan on methane, “aiming to achieve a significant effect on methane emissions control and reductions in the 2020s”, said the joint statement.

It follows the Joe Biden administration’s national action plan to reduce America’s methane emissions, released last Tuesday.

The US and China will also meet in the first half of next year to discuss how to better measure and cut methane emissions, including through standards to reduce methane from the fossil fuel and waste sectors, as well as incentives and programmes to reduce methane from the agricultural sector, said the statement.

They also pledged to work together to eliminate global illegal deforestation through effectively enforcing their respective laws on banning illegal imports. 

Experts say that China’s pledge to cut methane is significant, given its silence so far on the issue.

The deal was announced at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow by American climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

Georgetown University Associate Professor Joanna Lewis, an expert on US-China climate change cooperation, said that non-CO2 greenhouse gases were “notably absent” from China’s nationally determined contribution (NDC), its updated climate pledge to the UN released in October. 

Nor did China sign the global pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, said Prof Lewis on Twitter.

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There is much pressure for China to do more in the 2020s, she said, adding that Wednesday’s joint declaration “sets the stage for more movement”.

China will also phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five Year Plan, which will cover 2026 to 2030, said the statement.

“Putting China’s language on coal phase-down from domestic plans on paper in an international agreement is useful,” said Prof Lewis.

She added: “The value here is putting several things down on paper that China has been saying in domestic plans and speeches, but had been absent from its NDC. And, of course, this can hopefully push a strong Glasgow agreement over the finish line.”

The two countries also pledged to start a working group on enhancing climate action in the 2020s. It will meet regularly. 

Welcoming the announcement, Prof Lewis said: “We now finally have a formal mechanism for ongoing bilateral cooperation which was so far missing from this administration.”

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Mr Xie and Mr Kerry said that Wednesday’s joint declaration was the result of nearly three dozen negotiation sessions over the course of the year.

Experts welcomed the agreement, calling it reminiscent of the climate deal struck by the US and China in 2014, which paved the way for the Paris Agreement a year later.

It was also notable, coming amid US-China tensions and acrimony in other arenas, from technology to trade as well as human rights.

Mr Thom Woodroofe, a senior adviser at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a US-China climate cooperation expert, wrote on Twitter that both countries benefited from the announcement.

For the US, it shows that it is coming away from Glasgow with “at least a signal by China” that it hopes to be able to do more and with ways to hold its “feet to the fire”, he said.

For China, it helps to stem the perception that it “came to Glasgow entirely empty-handed”, he added.

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