Experts on Thursday cautiously welcomed a joint pact by China and the United States to accelerate climate action this decade as COP26 negotiations neared their end with no clear plan to limit heating to 1.5°C.
The surprise statement, unveiled late Wednesday by envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, said the world’s two biggest emitters “recognize the gravity and urgency of the climate crisis.”
Importantly, the document emphasized that carbon pollution needs to be reduced this decade and committed to work swiftly to reduce their emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas.
Observers said the pact, which contained few details, should allay fears that US-China tensions entering the two-week UN climate summit in Glasgow could derail talks.
“It can only be good news that the US and China are working closely together on climate change and reducing methane emissions,” said Bernice Lee, research director at the Chatham House think tank.
“But the statement is not enough to close the deal. The real test from Washington and Beijing is how hard they are pushing for a 1.5C agreement here in Glasgow.”
Delegates from nearly 200 countries are nearing the end of negotiations to keep the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement within reach.
In the landmark 2015 agreement, countries pledged to limit heating to “well below” two degrees Celsius and work towards a safer limit of 1.5°C through sweeping emissions cuts.
But in the six years since, carbon pollution has continued to increase, as stronger and more frequent extreme droughts, floods and storms have been linked to the 1.1°C man-made so far.
In Paris, countries agreed to double their emissions reduction plans every five years under the agreement’s “ratchet” mechanism, which is designed to meet an ever-increasing climate ambition.
But several major issuers, including China, missed the 2020 deadline for submitting new plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Others submitted plans that were no more ambitious — or even less — than their original plans.
The UN says national pledges so far have set the planet on course to warm 2.7°C this century.
– Climate ‘transcends other matters’ –
The draft “decisions” were released Wednesday, which were the first real indication of where the nations stand for 10 days of in-depth technical discussions.
The text, which is sure to change during ministerial debates, called on countries to “review and strengthen” their NDCs next year, rather than 2025 as previously agreed.
But several problems remain unresolved. These include how vulnerable countries are financially supported to green their economies and prepare for future shocks.
Rules on transparency, common reporting on climate action and carbon markets are all still under discussion.
And countries already hit by climate disasters are demanding support for “loss and damage” from wealthy polluters.
But the main bottleneck is ambition: which countries plan to reduce their CO2 emissions fast enough to avoid dangerous heating.
Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, said the pact between the US and China would have a “positive impact” on the discussions in Glasgow.
“With all the difficulties they have with other issues, actually signaling this issue now transcends other issues… that helps the world community accept that we need to act now,” he told AFP.