John Kerry, the President’s Special Envoy for Climate, speaks during a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The United States and China, the world’s two largest carbon polluters, have agreed to work together to urgently curb climate change just days before President Joe Biden hosts a virtual summit of world leaders to discuss the issue.
The agreement was reached by US special envoy for climate John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua during a two-day meeting in Shanghai last week. This emerges from a joint statement.
The two countries “undertake to work with each other and with other countries to address the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency it demands,” the statement said.
China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon, followed by the US. The two countries pump out almost half of the fossil fuel fumes that heat the planet’s atmosphere. Working together is key to the success of global climate change efforts, but frayed human rights, trade and China territorial claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea threaten to undermine such efforts.
Speaking to reporters in Seoul on Sunday, Kerry said the language in the statement was “strong” and the two countries agreed on “critical elements of where to go”. But the former foreign minister said: “I have learned in diplomacy that you do not turn your back on words, but take action. We all have to see what happens.”
Noting that China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, Kerry said he and Chinese officials have had much discussion on how to accelerate a global energy transition. “I have never shied away from expressing our views, shared by many, many people, that it is imperative to cut coal everywhere,” he said.
Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the summit from April 22nd to 23rd. The US and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets to reduce carbon emissions before or during the meeting and to pledge financial aid to climate efforts by less wealthy nations.
It is unclear to what extent Kerry’s visit to China would promote US-China cooperation on climate issues.
While Kerry was still in Shanghai, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng signaled on Friday that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at next week’s summit.
“For a large country of 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easy to achieve,” Le said during an interview with The Associated Press in Beijing. “Some countries are asking China to meet the targets sooner. I’m afraid that is not very realistic.”
During a video meeting with German and French heads of state and government on Friday, Xi said that climate change “should not become a geopolitical chip, target for attacks on other countries or an excuse for trade barriers,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.
When asked whether Xi would join the summit, Le said, “The Chinese side is actively investigating the matter.”
The joint statement states that the two countries are “looking forward” to next week’s summit. Kerry said on Sunday that “we very much hope that (Xi) will attend the summit,” but it is up to China to make that decision.
Biden, who has said that tackling global warming is one of his top priorities, had the United States rejoin the historic 2015 Paris Agreement in the early hours of his presidency, undoing the US withdrawal ordered by predecessor Donald Trump.
Major greenhouse gas emitters are preparing for the next UN climate summit, which will be held in Glasgow, UK in November. The summit aims to restart global efforts to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed in the Paris Agreement.
According to the US-China declaration, the two countries would “improve their respective policies and cooperate in multilateral processes, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement”.
Both countries also intend to develop their respective long-term strategies in advance of the Glasgow conference and to take “appropriate steps to maximize international investment and finance in support” of the energy transition in developing countries.
Xi announced last year that China would be climate neutral by 2060 and aim to peak its emissions by 2030. In March, the Chinese Communist Party pledged to reduce carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. in line with its target for the previous five year period. But environmentalists say China needs to do more.
Biden has pledged that the US will move to a zero-emission power sector within 14 years and have a completely zero-emission economy by 2050. Kerry is also urging other nations to commit to carbon neutrality by then.