Cop26: ‘Unexpected’ US-China climate pact provides much-needed optimism as Glasgow talks near end – Community News
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Cop26: ‘Unexpected’ US-China climate pact provides much-needed optimism as Glasgow talks near end

The world’s two largest economies, the US and China, are also the world’s two largest polluting countries, accounting for more than 40 percent of humanity’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the international community, academics and conservationists cautiously welcomed a joint statement this week at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, which aims to accelerate the countries’ measures to tackle the climate crisis over the next decade.

While China and the US have not always agreed, their connection is regarded as one of the most crucial bilateral relations in the world, playing an important role in safeguarding global economic and security interests.

In recent years, the relationship has come under strain, with flashpoints such as Donald Trump’s initiation of a trade war, international alarm over the Uyghur genocide, treatment of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and growing US concerns over cyber warfare.

To illustrate the feverish nature of the relationship, satellite images from this week revealed scale models of US warships in China, possibly training for a future naval battle, amid heightened tensions between the nations.

But after meetings in Glasgow between US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua on Wednesday, the two negotiating teams produced what they called a “roadmap” for greater cooperation on the climate crisis.

Xie told reporters at Cop26 that both countries understood the need to work together as the challenge of the worsening climate crisis is an “existential and serious one”.

There was “more similarity between China and the US than divergence,” he added.

“This is a step we can build on,” Kerry said. “Every step is important now and we have a long journey ahead of us.”

The statements pointed to a major uptick in relations between the countries just days after US President Joe Biden criticized President Xi for his absence from Glasgow. “It’s a huge problem and they ran away,” he said.

The deal came when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the goal of 1.5°C summit warming was “on life support” due to a lack of commitments from countries to curb their emissions.

“I welcome today’s agreement between China and the US to work together to take more ambitious climate action in this decade,” he said.

“Tackling the climate crisis requires international cooperation and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

Frans Timmermans, head of EU climate policy, said it was “very encouraging to see those countries in conflict in so many areas come to an agreement on what is the greatest challenge facing humanity today”.

“It certainly helps us come to an agreement here at Cop,” he added.

US Climate Special Envoy John Kerry


Boris Johnson, who had returned to Glasgow on Wednesday to kick-start what he described as the “inadequate” broader negotiations at the summit, also expressed relief that the UK-organized summit had set a framework for the genesis of the China-US pact – although it was unclear if he knew the pact was coming when he left Scotland before it was announced.

The British Prime Minister said: “I welcome the strong demonstration of commitment from China and the US last night to step up climate action this decade and keep 1.5°C within reach.”

“This is an impetus for negotiations as we enter the final days of Cop26 and continue to work towards an ambitious outcome for the planet.”

Given the increasing saber clatter between Beijing and Washington in recent months, experts have said the new pledges are a “striking” development.

Rosemary Foot, an Oxford University professor who is an expert on the US-China relationship, said: the independent it was “quite surprising” that the deal was announced given the “general deterioration of relations in the countries”.

She added: “Both sides are trying to give substance to the idea that their relationship can be competitive as well as cooperative. Paris in 2015 was the setting for something similar, but the ties are now much colder and more complex.”

Professor Amelia Hadfield, the head of politics at the University of Surrey, said the new announcement could be a sign of greater intent to improve bilateral relations between China and the US.

She said: “The agreement between the US and China is striking because it runs counter to the recent narrative built around big power politics. In recent years, it has been felt that the US has become more confrontational with China, with the recent AUKUS pact being a key example of the security and defense challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region.

“Yet the announcement of climate change has shown that we should not expect Cold War-style politics either. Instead, China and the US can work together on issues that require their joint leadership and integration of their respective economies into the global economy.”

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said the pact is “the breakthrough that should set the tone for packing an ambitious agent”.

Campaigners also welcomed the unexpected pact, suggesting it could help restore momentum that led to the original Paris deal, in which both Mr Kerry and Mr Xie played key roles.

WWF’s Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said: “The unexpected joint statement by the world’s two largest emitters, the US and China, that they will work together to improve climate action reflects a heightened awareness of the climate crisis we face.

“This announcement could send a much-needed political signal that the two biggest emitters, responsible for more than 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, are joining forces to prevent a climate catastrophe. It could reflect their efforts before the Paris Agreement was finalized. At the time, they provided the momentum that ultimately led to the historic climate accord agreement.”

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said: “It is always welcome news when the world’s two biggest emitters are collaborating on climate change, and a reset of their relationship on this crucial issue must be high time.

“The climate crisis will only be resolved if the US and China urgently pursue the same goal of aligning emissions with a 1.5°C trajectory.”

The two countries said the pact has committed them to a working group for this decade, in which they will “meet regularly” and focus on “concrete actions”.