When countries talk about their relations, they often talk about the importance of creating people-to-people ties. Sometimes that phrase can seem like fluff from the dictionary of diplomatic buzzwords. And sometimes personal ties can be crucial to getting things done – like the US-China surprise promises to collaborate deeper on climate change announced at COP26 yesterday (Nov. 10).
For example, it helps to know that the person on the opposite side of the table from you is negotiating in good faith and sharing at least some of your beliefs about what the goals should be. When China in February appointed veteran climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua as his special climate envoy, John Kerry – who has sat down with Xie many, many times over the last two decades – welcomed the announcement. Kerry, the United States’ first presidential climate envoy, considers Xie “a believer”In the need to combat climate change. In diplomatic terms, it makes them good friends.
How the United States and China reached agreement at COP26
The personal story largely explains how the two countries were able to achieve their agreement at COP26, despite conflicts elsewhere. IN a joint statement, the two countries expressed alarm that the efforts to reduce emissions do not live up to what is required to stop warming from exceeding 2 ° C. China is currently the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, followed by the United States, and at present none of the countries are on track to make such reductions must comply with the Paris Agreement.
“The two sides emphasize the crucial importance of closing this gap as soon as possible, in particular through intensified efforts. They declare their intention to work individually, together and with other countries during this crucial decade,” they said. COP26 ends, US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping is set to meet virtually next week.
“To a certain extent, it is not an exaggeration to say that we are where we are today because of these two people who are committed to solving the problem of climate change and are willing to put personal and political interest in this. questions, “Li said. Shuo, senior global policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia. “This is a very good example of politicians, or I should say statesmen, staying clear despite the very difficult geopolitics … The United States and China can not afford to decouple or interrupt this issue, and that was the key message in the Joint Declaration. “
China also agreed to reduce its methane emissions – the two countries will hold talks on these reductions in the first half of next year – although it did not sign a pact on methane announced earlier in the summit.
“There is more agreement between the United States and China than divergence, making it an area with enormous potential for cooperation,” Xie said.
This weekend, Xie joked about how much time he’s spent with Kerry, according to New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. In the months leading up to the UN climate summit, the two have met about 30 times, mostly virtually, Li noted.
Also in 2014, Xie and then-Secretary of State John Kerry helped move the prolonged stalemate between the US and China on China’s emissions responsibility. This agreement was crucial for the successful negotiation the following year of the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate treaty that led the world to sign the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels.
Over time, however, the chances of friendship between the United States and China diminish.
The number of Chinese students in the United States has dropped, and most Chinese nationals, including President Xi Jinping, have not left the country for nearly two years because China’s zero-covid approach means a long quarantine on return – Beijing is 28 days. Against this background, Li notes, China 60-person delegation to Glasgow is a signal of how seriously the country views the climate crisis.