China and the United States, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, have agreed to cooperate with other countries to fight climate change.
The joint statement on Sunday followed two days of talks between Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart, John Kerry, in Shanghai.
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“The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” their statement said.
The two countries will also continue to discuss “concrete actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions aimed at keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limit within reach”, it said.
In the Paris accord, countries agreed in 2015 to keep rising global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
China and the US are the world’s top carbon polluters, pumping out nearly half of the fossil fuel fumes that are warming the planet’s atmosphere. Their cooperation is key to the success of global efforts to curb climate change, but frayed ties over human rights, trade and China’s territorial claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea have been threatening to undermine such efforts.
Kerry’s trip to Shanghai marked the highest-level travel to China by a US official since President Joe Biden took office in January.
Biden, who has said fighting global warming is among his highest priorities, had the US rejoin the Paris climate accord in the first hours of his presidency, undoing the withdrawal ordered by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The new US president has also invited 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to a virtual summit to discuss the issue on April 22 and 23.
The US and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets for cutting carbon emissions before or during the meeting, along with pledging financial help for climate efforts by less wealthy nations.
When Kerry was still in Shanghai, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng signalled on Friday that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at next week’s summit.
“For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered,” Le said during an interview with The Associated Press news agency in Beijing. “Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”
On whether Xi would join the summit, Le said, “The Chinese side is actively studying the matter.”
During a video meeting with German and French leaders on Friday, Xi said climate change “should not become a geopolitical chip, a target for attacking other countries or an excuse for trade barriers”, though he called for closer cooperation on the issue, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Xi pledged last year that China would achieve “carbon neutrality by 2060” and ensure its greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2030.
The top emitters of greenhouse gases are also preparing for the next United Nations climate summit taking place in Glasgow, United Kingdom, in November. The summit aims to relaunch global efforts to keep rising global temperatures to below 1.5C as agreed in the Paris accord.
According to the US-China statement, both Washington and Beijing “intend to develop” their respective long-term strategies to achieve carbon neutrality by the Glasgow meeting.
Other moves in the near term include boosting “international investment and finance” to support the transition to green energy in developing countries, as well as phasing out production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, gases used in refrigeration, air conditioners and aerosols.
Longer-term actions that need to be taken to keep the temperature goals of the Paris accord “within reach” include reducing emissions from industry and power generation while stepping up renewable energy, clean transportation and climate-resistant agriculture.
Li Shuo, a policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia, said Sunday’s joint statement showed the “unequivocal commitment” of China and US in tackling climate change and should “put global climate momentum back on high gear”.
“The difficult meetings in Shanghai bore fruit. Let that move the politics closer to where science requires us to be,” he said.