Caixin
Apr 19, 2021 07:45 PM
WORLD

Analysis: Sino-U.S. Climate Change Statement Signals Revived Cooperation by Two Biggest Carbon Emitters

China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry met in Shanghai on April 15 and 16. Photo: Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People's Republic of China
China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry met in Shanghai on April 15 and 16. Photo: Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People's Republic of China

The joint Sino-U.S. statement on climate change shows that the world’s two largest carbon emitters have revived cooperation ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow later this year.

According to the Sunday statement, China and the U.S. will cooperate with each other and with other countries to “tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”

The two sides will also “cooperate to promote a successful COP 26 in Glasgow, aiming to complete the implementation arrangements for the Paris Agreement and to significantly advance global climate ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and support.”

The statement was released after Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry finished a three-day visit to Shanghai, during which he met with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua.

It was the first official trip to China by a Biden administration official, and comes as relations are still feeling the fallout from the Trump era, during which ties hit their lowest point in at least a generation.

“This is the first time China has joined in saying it’s a crisis,” Kerry was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying. He also said that the two sides discussed the possibility of China “enhancing” commitments President Xi Jinping made last September, according to the report.

Citing anonymous sources, the Wall Street Journal report suggested that Xi would participate in the U.S.-initiated climate summit later this week. Beijing has not confirmed Xi’s attendance.

China has pledged to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060. Climate experts interviewed by Caixin suggested that China could do more beyond the current commitments.

Zhang Jianyu, chief representative and vice president of non-profit Environmental Defense Fund’s China program, told Caixin that the leadership has indicated the country is already moving toward “high-speed” reduction of emissions.

“By reducing emissions at high speed, China can reach peak emissions much earlier than 2030 and, by doing so, it will create more buffer time to realize carbon neutrality, making it easier for policy formulation, energy structure reform, and production and lifestyle changes to achieve the 2060 goal,” Zhang said.

“The diplomatic relationship will surely create ripple effects on climate change cooperation,” he added. “Beijing and Washington both believe in climate change. We are hoping that China and the U.S. take bold actions.”

Li Shuo, global climate policy advisor at Greenpeace, said the statement constituted a firm step despite the great geopolitical challenges.

“The statement underlined the need for near-term ambitious actions and will launch a process of continued G-2 engagement on an existential issue of global interest,” Li said, “It will also provide impetus into the upcoming Biden climate summit.”

He said that the main drivers of the countries’ climate action will be domestic policies and that “going forward, the engagement between them should focus on building up these domestic motivations.”

Li suggested that China should consider setting an absolute carbon cap on its greenhouse gas emissions and halt expansion of coal power plants both at home and abroad.

In the U.S., a coalition called America is All In, consisting of political and business leaders including former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, has called on the Biden administration to pledge more ambitious targets than those set by President Barack Obama.

The coalition said that the U.S. could reduce emissions at least 50% from a 2005 baseline by 2030. That would amount to a significantly more ambitious target than the roughly one-quarter reduction from the same baseline by 2025 pledged by the Obama administration in 2015.

Contact reporters Wang Xintong (xintongwang@caixin.com) and Lu Zhenhua (zhenhualu@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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