The United States and China, the world’s two biggest climate polluters, have agreed to jointly fight global warming by increasing wind, solar and other renewable energy in a bid to replace fossil fuels, it was announced Tuesday the State Department.
The announcement comes as President Biden prepares to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday for their first face-to-face discussion in a year. The climate agreement could emerge as a positive point in negotiations which are expected to focus on sensitive issues such as Taiwan, the war in Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas.
Statements of cooperation issued separately by the United States and China do not include China’s promise to phase out its heavy use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, or to stop permitting and building new new coal-fired power plants. This has been a sticking point for the United States during months of talks with Beijing on climate change.
But the two countries agreed to “continue efforts to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030.” This growth should reach levels high enough “to accelerate the substitution of coal, oil and gas production,” the agreement specifies. Both countries expect “a significant absolute reduction in energy sector emissions” over this decade, it says. This appears to be the first time China has agreed to reduce emissions in any sector of its economy.
The agreement comes two weeks before representatives from nearly 200 countries converge in Dubai as part of the United Nations climate negotiations, known as COP28. The United States and China have major roles to play as nations debate whether to phase out fossil fuels.
Earlier this month, John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, met with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, at Sunnylands in California to lay the groundwork for the deal announced Tuesday.
“The United States and China recognize that the climate crisis is affecting more and more countries around the world. » Sunnylands Declaration on strengthening cooperation to tackle the climate crisis said.
“Both countries underline the importance of COP 28 to meaningfully respond to the climate crisis during this critical decade and beyond” and commit in the declaration “to tackling 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 important because China’s current climate target only addresses carbon dioxide, leaving out methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that act as a blanket around the planet.
Methane is emitted by oil and gas operations as well as coal mines and can be 80% more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term.
The Chinese government last week released a long-awaited plan to combat methane, but analysts dismissed it as ineffective because it lacked emissions reduction targets.
The Sunnylands Agreement also lacks targets, but says the two countries will work together to set them.
China has refused to join the Global Mthane Pledge, an agreement between more than 150 countries, led by the United States and Europe, which promises to collectively reduce emissions by 30% by 2030.
The United States and China also agreed that in the next round of climate commitments – which the countries are expected to present in 2025 – China will set targets for reducing emissions across its economy. Its current commitment projects that carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, but does not specify how high they could reach before the curve begins to bend or by how much emissions could be reduced.
Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, welcomed the U.S.-China deal and called it a “foundation for ambition” ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai.
“This sends a powerful message of cooperation in the face of the existential challenge of our time,” Mr. Bapna said. “What is important now is that both countries respect today’s commitment.”
The deal is the product of months of negotiations between Mr. Kerry, 79, and Mr. Xie, 73, friends and sparring partners on climate for more than 25 years. Both came out of retirement to become climate envoys for their countries and advocated within their governments for climate change diplomacy. Mr Xie, who suffered a stroke last year, is expected to retire after the UN summit in Dubai.
Their negotiations stalled in 2022 after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, a move seen as provocative by Beijing. Then, earlier this year, a U.S. warplane shot down a Chinese spy balloon that was floating over the continental United States.
In July, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to improve relations, Mr. Kerry visited Beijing.
This effort was unsuccessful. Mr. Xi used Mr. Kerry’s visit to deliver a speech declaring that China would never allow itself to be “influenced by others” on its climate goals.
Yet Mr. Kerry said optimistically at the time that “we are laying the groundwork” 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 largest climate polluter in history, and China, the current largest polluter, together account for 38% of global greenhouse gases.
This means that both countries’ drive to urgently reduce their emissions will essentially determine whether the countries can limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Scientists say this is the threshold beyond which increasingly severe wildfires, floods, heat and drought will exceed humanity’s capacity to adapt. The planet has already warmed by 1.2 degrees.
But neither the United States nor China will act quickly if the other does not. Both countries are taking steps to tackle emissions, but hardliners in each country argue the other is not doing enough, and each country has called the other’s climate pledges insincere.
While the United States has reduced emissions, Chinese officials have said the U.S. goal of reducing pollution by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of this decade is insufficient.
Chinese leaders are also keenly aware of the partisan divide in the United States on climate change and have little confidence that a future administration will deliver on the promises made by Mr. Biden. Most Republican presidential candidates refuse to recognize the established science of climate changeand front-runner Donald Trump has promised to end climate action and encourage more oil drilling, fracking and coal mining.
U.S. lawmakers, by contrast, note that China’s emissions continue to rise and that the country has so far only promised to peak before 2030 and then maintain a plateau before falling. This is unacceptable to most members of Congress, who believe that China, the world’s second-largest economy, should grow at a pace similar to that of the United States.