The US and China announced a joint statement at the Cop26 summit to accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis in the 2020s.
The world’s two biggest polluters have committed themselves to a working group for this decade, saying they will “meet regularly” and focus on “concrete actions”.
A sudden announcement was made on the UN Cop26 website on Wednesday that successive press conferences would be held by the nations’ two longtime climate negotiators, Xie Zhenhua and John Kerry.
China’s climate envoy was the first to speak, saying both countries understood the need to work together as the challenge of climate change is “existential”.
Secretary Kerry followed immediately after. “Together we will take action here at the Cop and in the years to come,” he said.
Mr Kerry noted that President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping had a conversation a few weeks ago, and that despite “real differences, we were able to work together on the climate crisis”.
“There is no other way to make this happen,” the climate envoy said.
Kerry said he first spoke to Zhenhua, whom he has known for years, in February. Their teams have worked together “in good faith,” meeting in person and virtually more than 30 times, he said.
We agreed to the “basic framework”, he said, noting that there was a shared desire for success at Cop26 on “all the key issues”.
He called the new climate pact ‘a roadmap’.
President Xi announced last year that China will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and aim to achieve emissions by 2030. The US has said it will reach net zero by 2050 and has set a goal of reaching 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.
“We have to be honest about the progress,” said Mr Kerry, citing fears that Cop26 will not deliver the progress needed to keep the 1.5C of the Paris Agreement within reach. Achieving that goal will require at least a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by this decade. Mr Kerry called this a “large order”.
In particular, he said China and the US would work together to limit methane — the single, fastest way to limit global warming. He also said there was an understanding that the use of undiminished coal had to be curtailed and forest protections had to be enforced.
“This is a step we can build on,” Kerry said. “Every step is important now and we have a long journey ahead of us.”
It is a shift from the rhetoric used earlier at the climate conference. During his performance last week, President Joe Biden criticized President Xi for his absence from Glasgow. “It’s a huge problem and they ran away,” he said.
The announcement came shortly after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid a flying visit to Scotland to boost ambitions at the summit. He acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to be done after he made promises (albeit with many caveats) about methane, deforestation and reducing coal use in the first few days.
Johnson called it “deeply frustrating” to see nations “which have conspicuously patted themselves on the back for six years for signing that promissory note in Paris are quietly moving towards default, now vulnerable nations and future generations here, now in Glasgow”.
He described the final days of Cop26 as the “hard yards, the nuts and bolts of international climate diplomacy, and negotiations are getting tough”.
Chief executive and co-founder Nick Mabey of the European think tank E3G said the announcement between the US and China had major geopolitical significance.”
“They will now build climate cooperation bilaterally and in multilateral fora,” he said in a statement. “This high profile deployment puts pressure on both countries to move their positions to make COP 26 a success.”
This article is being updated
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