GLASGOW, Scotland – The US and China yesterday announced a comprehensive climate cooperation plan to boost global efforts to contain warming.
The joint statement comes as climate talks here come to a close, and officials hope that cooperation between the world’s two biggest emitters could pave the way for progress at this year’s summit.
“And as I’ve said many times, the United States and China are not short of differences, but not in terms of climate,” said US climate envoy John Kerry. “On the climate front, collaboration is the only way to get the job done.”
The agreement calls for a decade of bilateral climate work, including cooperation on regulatory frameworks and best practices, sharing carbon capture technology and actions to curb both carbon dioxide and methane.
At the next round of climate talks, to be held in Egypt in a year, the US and China have agreed to develop new methane policies for the energy, waste and agricultural sectors.
The plan calls for a summit on methane control in the first half of next year. It notes the Biden administration’s recently released methane roadmap, which includes proposed EPA rules. And it includes a pledge from China to develop a “comprehensive and ambitious” methane national plan to significantly reduce emissions this decade.
In particular, China is not among the dozens of countries that have signed the Global Methane Pledge, a US-European Union initiative that aims to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and a major cause of short-term warming.
Other areas of cooperation outlined in the agreement are aimed at increasing renewable energy capacity on the US and Chinese power grids, increasing energy efficiency and combating deforestation. Both countries joined a global deforestation pact announced last week.
The agreement was notable because during these talks, China and the US were at loggerheads, exchanging criticism in the press — and sometimes from the stage — and pitting each other in negotiating rooms, where parties work behind the scenes on common ground based on issues ranging from transparency from emissions accounting to aid for adaptation and those expropriated by climate change.
That the US and China put aside their differences, at least for now, could allay fears that tensions between the world’s biggest climate polluters would stand in the way of progress in these crucial climate talks. Certainly if it translates into more climate ambition in the final days of the negotiations at the climate conference known as COP 26.
The deal signals an open line of communication between China and the United States, said Joanna Lewis, director of the Science, Technology and International Affairs Program at Georgetown University.
The statement also puts on paper many of the things China has said in domestic policy documents and speeches, but which have not been reflected in its official climate targets — what is known as its Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC.
“Non-CO2 Gases have been remarkably absent from China’s NDC and China has not signed the methane pledge, so language about methane clearly helps address this omission,” Lewis said.
China’s NDC aims for peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. Critics say it will need to reach net zero much sooner to limit global temperature rise to the 1.5 degree Celsius limit set in the Paris Agreement.
Li Shuo, global policy advisor at Greenpeace China, said the US and China both have work to do before they can be seen as climate leaders.
“Both sides are still not meeting what is needed in terms of ambition and implementation,” he said. “The US is not convinced by China’s climate goals. China is skeptical about the fulfillment of its promises by the US.”
The statement leaves more room for an ambitious outcome at COP 26 as the countries recognize that there is a gap in action and that they both need to do more in this decade to close it, said Byford Tsang, China Strategy Lead at E3G.
To show they are serious, they need to get support from other countries, he said.
The United States has conducted these talks to reassure the world that it is back and ready to lead, after years of inactivity during the previous administration.
Speaking on Monday’s first full day of the conference, Biden has deployed a team of cabinet members to discuss government policies on methane reduction, electric vehicles, climate change in foreign policy and other topics.
But Chinese President Xi Jinping was not present at those talks, and President Biden pointed the finger at China in a speech to the Group of 20 for not doing enough to tackle global warming.
China and the US have united in support of some pledges and have not signed others.
Both signed an agreement at the G-20 last month to stop providing government funding for the development of coal-fired power plants outside their borders next year. But neither signed a coal phase-out pledge that the UK unveiled at COP 26 last week.
Yesterday’s deal was not without work, Kerry said.
He and his counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, have met more than 30 times since February, and Biden spoke to President Xi weeks ago about how they could work together on climate change despite major tensions over other geopolitical issues, Kerry said.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a tweet that he welcomes the agreement.
“Tackling the climate crisis requires international cooperation and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction,” he wrote.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.