The deal was broadly welcomed by global leaders and climate experts amid criticism the UN climate conference was falling far short of its goals.

An announcement by global rivals, China and the US, that the two countries plan to cooperate on climate action in the next decade was welcomed as a positive breakthrough at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

On Wednesday evening, the Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry held back-to-back press conferences where they announced the two countries would work together to achieve the emissions reductions needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.

The deal between China and the US, two of the world’s largest economies and the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, appeared to have caught delegates by surprise but was welcomed by global leaders and climate experts. Critics said vague words now need to translate into policy action.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement as “an important step in the right direction.” 

“We both see the challenge of climate change is existential and a severe one,” said Xie Zhenhua at the press conference. “As two major powers in the world, China and the United States, we need to take our due responsibility and work together.”

“The US and China have no shortage of differences,” said John Kerry shortly afterwards. “But on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done.”

In their Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action, the two countries agreed to cooperate on “regulatory frameworks and environmental standards” and on “policies to encourage decarbonisation and electrification.” They pledged to act jointly on reducing methane emissions – despite China not signing up to a US-led initiative at COP26 - deforestation and the clean energy transition. 

The declaration further announces a plan to establish a “Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s,” set to hold its first meeting in the first half of 2022.

“This is an important step as there is no pathway for 1.5 degrees Celsius without engagement on climate between China and the US,” said Belinda Schape, a researcher at the European climate think tank E3G.

“Both sides acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and show that cooperation on this issue is possible despite tense relations,” Schape said, adding that the commitments “must now be reflected in the negotiating rooms and in the final cover decision text at COP26.”

 A draft final statement published by the COP26 presidency earlier on Wednesday acknowledged individual countries’ emissions reduction targets (known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) were falling far short of what was needed and asked countries to re-submit new targets by the next COP in a year’s time. The statement came as research showed that current targets put the world on track for 2.4 degrees of warming.

 The draft statement acknowledged the need to phase out all fossil fuels, including oil and gas, for the first time in the UN process. While this was welcomed by environmentalists, it remains to be seen whether it will be included in the final statement.

 “Their statement recognises that the 1.5C goal is at the heart of any credible climate plan and they frame the 2020s as the decade where we need to see real action. Those things matter, especially from these two countries,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan.

“But ultimately [it] falls short of the call by the climate vulnerable countries demanding that nations come back to the table every year with greater ambition until the 1.5C gap is closed,” she added.

In 2014, the US and China struck a bilateral deal to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, widely credited for paving the way to the 2015 Paris Agreement. That cooperation stopped with the Trump administration, which withdrew from the Paris deal. The US re-joined it under President Biden, but remains at loggerheads with China over several issues including trade, cybersecurity, China's military buildup, disputes about the South China Sea and human rights. 

“While this is not a game changer the way the 2014 US-China climate deal was, in many ways it’s just as much of a step forward given the geopolitical state of the relationship,” said Thom Woodroofe, a former climate diplomat who is currently a fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) working on US-China climate cooperation. 

“Both sides benefit from this. For the US, it shows they are coming away from Glasgow with at least a signal by China that they hope to be able to do more this decade,” he continued. “For China, it helps stem the perception they came to Glasgow entirely empty handed.”

Source: TRT World