China and the United States, the world’s two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, unveiled a deal to ramp up cooperation tackling climate change, including by reducing methane emissions, protecting forests and phasing out coal.
In a joint statement announced at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the countries said they had reached an agreement to redouble efforts to fight climate change with “concrete actions”.
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The two biggest carbon-polluting countries said their deal calls for “enhanced climate action in the 2020s” using the 2015 Paris climate deal’s guidelines, including a new stronger emission cuts target in 2025.
The agreement also calls for “concrete and pragmatic” regulations in decarbonisation, reducing methane emissions and fighting deforestation.
“Both sides recognise that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris Agreement goals so we will jointly strengthen climate action,” China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said in announcing the agreement on Wednesday.
According to Xie, the deal would involve “concrete plans” for enhanced action this decade and both countries were “to work on the finalisation of the Paris Agreement rulebook” at the UN climate summit in Glasgow.
The 2015 accord commits nations to work towards limiting global temperature rises to between 1.5C and 2C through sweeping emissions cuts.
Xie said that China and the US had carried out 30 virtual meetings over the course of the last 10 months to come up with the initiative.
“As the two major powers in the world, China and the United States have to take on the responsibility to work together with other parties in address climate change,” he said.
The US and China together account for some 40 percent of all carbon pollution.
US climate envoy John Kerry said that the countries also agreed to reduce methane emissions and that the agreement with China was a statement of support for a successful United Nations climate summit.
“Together we set out our support for a successful COP26, including certain elements which will promote ambition, but let me be clear this declaration is a step we can build on in order to close the gap … Every step matters right now and we have a long journey ahead of us,” Kerry said at a news conference.
Last week US President Joe Biden said Chinese leader Xi Jinping had “walked away” from the climate crisis for skipping the COP26 summit. China hit back at the time, but ties appear to have thawed ahead of long-awaited bilateral talks next week.
“The release of this joint declaration shows that cooperation is the only choice for China and the US,” said Xie.
Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC, said the countries’ pledge to set up a working group to address climate change “in the 2020s” has been welcomed. “This is specifically about the short-term, when action is the most crucial,” he said.
Rattansi also said the upcoming meeting between Biden and Xi could add to the sense of optimism spurred by Wednesday’s climate agreement.
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s executive vice president for the European Green Deal, said the deal “shows that the United States and China can cooperate on issues that transcend other conflicts”.
“Humanity is faced with the biggest challenge we’ve had ever, which is the climate crisis, and now China and the US are going to cooperate more closely,” Timmermans told Al Jazeera from the conference in Glasgow. “And this is completely in line with what we need to do here at COP, so I really welcome this joint declaration, I think it’s good news for us.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres also said the US-China initiative was an “important step” in the fight against climate change.
I welcome today's agreement between China and the USA to work together to take more ambitious #ClimateAction in this decade.
Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction. #COP26
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) November 10, 2021
The news follows the release of a United Nations final draft communique – which while being lauded for highlighting the need to end fossil fuel subsidies for the first time, was criticised for the lack of accountability provisions and vague commitments on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
On Tuesday, the Climate Action Tracker research group noted in a report that under current climate pledges, the average global temperature will warm up to 2.4C by 2100 – a level that would be catastrophic.
Britain’s Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, acknowledged that “significant issues remain unresolved”.
“My big, big ask of all of you is to please come armed with the currency of compromise,” he told negotiators. “What we agree in Glasgow will set the future for our children and grandchildren, and I know that we will not want to fail them.”