US Special Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry, speaks during a joint China-US statement on a statement to promote climate action in the 2020s on day eleven of the COP26 climate change conference at the SEC on Nov. 9, 2021 in Glasgow , Scotland.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images
LONDON — A joint statement between the United States and China, in which the two superpowers said they would work together on a number of climate-related actions, has taken many by surprise.
The statement, announced Wednesday at the COP26 summit on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, covers a range of issues, from cutting carbon dioxide and methane emissions to tackling illegal deforestation.
“The two sides intend to seize this critical moment to engage in extensive individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net-zero economy,” the statement said.
He also expressed the intention to establish a working group that “will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, with an emphasis on strengthening concrete actions in this decade”.
The US-China plan to work together has been widely welcomed by a range of stakeholders.
“The unexpected and welcome joint statement between the United States and China represents an important commitment between the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases,” Genevieve Maricle, director of U.S. climate policy at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.
“No less relevant in the context of this agreement, they are also the two largest economies in the world,” Maricle said.
“Between them, they have the power to unleash massive public and private sector financial flows that can accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Manish Bapna, the CEO and chairman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it is “good news that the US and China have agreed to accelerate climate action and ambition in this decisive decade.”
“The promise to strengthen cooperation on clean energy, methane and deforestation of the two largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gases is a welcome step forward,” Bapna said.
“But if we want to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we urgently need to translate commitments to work together into bolder climate goals and credible implementation.”
Elsewhere, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said via Twitter that he welcomed the agreement between the US and China.
“Tackling the climate crisis requires international cooperation and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction,” Guterres said.
In another tweet, Frans Timmermans, European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, said the good news is that the US and China have “found common ground on climate issues”.
“This is a challenge that transcends politics,” he said. “Bilateral cooperation between the world’s two biggest emitters should boost negotiations at #COP26. Now we need to find the global deal that keeps 1.5 degrees alive.”
The references to 1.5 degrees are a nod to the Paris Agreement, which is looming high in the discussions taking place in Glasgow.
The Paris Agreement, described by the United Nations as a legally binding international treaty on climate change, aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to the pre-industrial level”.
The task is huge and the United Nations has noted that 1.5 degrees Celsius is considered “the upper limit” when it comes to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Others who responded to the statement were Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. Morgan said it was “always welcome news when the world’s two biggest emitters team up on climate change, and a reset of their relationship on this crucial issue is overdue.”
“Their statement recognizes that the 1.5C target is at the heart of any credible climate plan and they frame the 2020s as the decade in which we need to see real action,” she continued. “Those things are important, especially from these two countries.”
Morgan argued that the US-China statement ultimately fell short of the call from “climate-vulnerable countries” who “demanded that countries come to the table with more ambition every year until the 1.5°C gap is closed.”
“So it’s good to see these two at the table together, but if this reset becomes a real breakthrough that builds global confidence, then they need to step up their level of ambition and their commitment to implementation.”
This was to start in Glasgow, Morgan said, “where every country should use the last two days of these talks to get the deal the world needs.”
The UK will host COP26 between October 31 and November 12.