China and the United States startled the world with a joint agreement on climate change, this time focusing on actions the world’s two major polluters can do together this decade to avert a tipping point on global warming.
The announcement, made as the United Nations climate talks enter their critical final days, envisions near-term collaboration between the world’s two superpowers on issues such as methane abatement, greenhouse gas regulation, just transition, power grid decarbonization, and deployment and adoption of carbon capture technology.
The deal maintains the primary objective of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was to keep average global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“The two sides reiterate their determination to continue discussing, both on the path to COP 26 and beyond, specific steps in the 2020s to decrease emissions in order to keep the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature target within reach,” according to the joint statement.
According to scientists, a 45 percent reduction in global emissions by the End of this decade is necessary to put the aspirational 1.5 C Paris objective within reach. This is a limit that experts believe will help avert the worst climate consequences. Most studies place the world’s current emissions trajectory at approximately 2.7 degrees Celsius, with the latest round of climate pledges – provided they are executed – reducing that to a potentially catastrophic 2.4 degrees Celsius.
This is the second time the United States and China have announced a surprise deal on climate change that would have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the globe. The first was in 2014, when the two announced their commitments to the Paris Agreement together — a move that helped make the 2015 Paris Agreement possible by breaking down the traditional barriers between what developed and developing countries were expected to do in the United Nations climate process.
Previously, only affluent nations were compelled to embrace enforceable carbon reduction commitments, while poor countries took voluntary initiatives with financial aid from the industrialized world. It was a system that China insisted on keeping but that the United States rejected in the Kyoto Protocol and later in a failed attempt to achieve a new Deal in Copenhagen, Denmark. Then, in 2014, China revealed intentions to peak its greenhouse gas output by 2030, signaling the world’s greatest developing nation’s acceptance of absolute emissions cuts and the End of strict bifurcation.
Today’s agreement, like the Obama-era agreement, was negotiated by U.S. presidential envoy John Kerry — President Obama’s second secretary of State — and Beijing’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. It was the result of months of talks and discussions between the two capitals.
Xie stated that the two nations had collaborated for ten months, which included calls between Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping, as well as 30 virtual and in-person staff sessions.
The agreement is also notable since the US-China relationship has worsened over the previous half-decade, with rising antagonism over disagreements on trade, human rights, and global competitiveness.
Even Washington and Beijing’s once-collaborative relationship on climate change appeared to be fraying, especially during last month’s summit.
Biden, Obama, and other US delegates in Glasgow have chastised China for failing to shift its 2030 peaking date ahead, despite technology advances and market factors making the transition to cleaner energy more easier and cheaper than when the promise was made. As well as, as the Biden administration struggles to pass its legislative agenda, the Chinese have frequently alluded to the United States’ brief withdrawal from Paris under former President Trump and questioned whether the Biden administration can make good on its new 2030 commitment to halve carbon emissions compared to 2005.
However, in Back-to-Back news interviews this afternoon in the same briefing room, Xie and Kerry termed the climate partnership a bright point in US-China ties that must be sustained.
“The issuance of this joint proclamation demonstrates once again that collaboration is the only option for both China and the United States,” Xie added.
Kerry noted that disparities between the United States and China remain, notably on human rights. However, he stated that those disparities could not prevent collaboration on climate change.
“Our presidents made it clear when they met back in February, I believe, that even though we had these disagreements, it was critical for us to work on global challenges,” he added. He compared US-China cooperation to nuclear disarmament discussions in the 1980s between the US and the Soviet Union.