The United States and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, have agreed to tackle global warming together by increasing wind, solar and other renewable energy with the aim of replacing fossil fuels, the US State Department said on Tuesday. -Friday (14).
The announcement came before American President Joe Biden met, this Wednesday (15), with Chinese President Xi Jinping, for their first face-to-face discussion in a year. The climate deal could emerge as a bright spot in talks, which are likely to focus on sensitive topics including Taiwan, the Ukrainian war and the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Statements of cooperation released separately by the United States and China do not include a pledge by China to phase out its heavy use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, or to stop allowing and building new coal plants. This has been a point of contention during months of discussions between the US and Beijing over climate change.
But both countries agreed to “undertake efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030.” This growth must reach levels high enough “to accelerate the replacement of coal, oil and gas generation,” the agreement says.
Both countries anticipate an “absolute significant reduction in energy sector emissions” this decade, the agreement says. This indicates that it may be the first time that China has agreed to reduce emissions in any part of its economy.
The agreement comes two weeks before representatives from nearly 200 countries meet in Dubai as part of the United Nations climate talks known as COP28. The United States and China have a leading role to play there as nations debate whether to phase out fossil fuels.
This month, John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, met with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, at California’s Sunnylands estate to lay the groundwork for the deal announced on Tuesday.
“The Sunnylands Declaration on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis affirms that the United States and China recognize that the climate crisis has increasingly affected countries around the world.”
“Both countries emphasize the importance of COP28 in meaningfully responding to the climate crisis during this critical decade and beyond” and commit in the declaration “to addressing one of the greatest challenges of our time for present and future generations of humanity.”
As part of the agreement, China agreed to set reduction targets for all greenhouse gas emissions. This is significant because China’s current climate target only addresses carbon dioxide, leaving out methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that are acting as a blanket around the planet.
Methane is released by oil and gas operations, as well as coal mining, and can be up to 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term.
The Chinese government last week released a long-awaited plan to deal with methane, but analysts found it ineffective because it did not include emissions reduction targets.
The Sunnylands agreement also has no targets, but states that the two countries will work together to define them.
China has refused to join the Global Methane Pledge, an agreement between more than 150 nations, led by the United States and Europe, that promises to collectively reduce emissions by 30% by 2030.
The United States and China also agreed that in the next set of climate commitments — which nations must submit by 2025 — China will set emissions reduction targets across its economy. Its current commitment calls for carbon dioxide emissions to peak before 2030, but it does not specify how high they could get before the curve begins to bend, nor does it specify how much it could reduce emissions.
Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, praised the deal between the United States and China and called it “a foundation of ambition” ahead of the UN climate summit in Dubai.
“This sends a powerful message of cooperation to the existential challenge of our time,” Bapna said. “What is important now is that both countries deliver on today’s promise.”
The agreement is the result of months of negotiations between Kerry, 79, and Xie, 73, friends and climate debate partners for more than 25 years. Both came out of retirement to become special climate envoys for their countries and have championed climate change diplomacy within their governments. Xie, who suffered a stroke last year, is expected to retire after the UN summit in Dubai.
Their negotiations reached an impasse in 2022 after Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House of Representatives, traveled to Taiwan, a move seen as provocative by Beijing. Then this year, an American fighter jet shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had floated over the continental United States.
In July, amid the Biden administration’s efforts to improve ties, Kerry traveled to Beijing.
This effort did not result in success. Xi took the opportunity of Kerry’s visit to deliver a speech declaring that China would never be “influenced by others” regarding its climate goals.
Still, Kerry said optimistically at the time that “we have set the stage” for a deal.
When it comes to climate change, no relationship is as important as that between the United States and China.
The United States, the biggest climate polluter in history, and China, the current biggest polluter, together are responsible for 38% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
This means that the two countries’ willingness to urgently reduce emissions will essentially determine whether the nations can limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say increasingly severe wildfires, floods, heat and drought will overwhelm humanity’s ability to adapt. The planet has already warmed by 1.2°C.
But neither the United States nor China will act quickly unless the other does too. Both nations are taking steps to combat emissions, but more hard-line sectors of the countries argue that the other is not doing enough — and both have interpreted the other’s climate promises as false.
Although the United States has reduced its emissions, Chinese officials have said that the American goal of reducing pollution by at least 50% from 2005 levels by the end of this decade is inadequate.