At COP26, China and the United States launched a cooperative initiative to achieve stronger climate action over the next decade, in a surprising show of collaboration between the rivals and the world’s two largest greenhouse-gas emitters.
The announcement came as the COP26 summit in Glasgow neared its conclusion, with negotiators locked in a heated debate over limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“Both sides recognize that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris Agreement goals, so we will jointly strengthen climate action,” Xie Zhenhua, Beijing’s longtime climate envoy, told the summit.
The two states agree on the need to reduce methane and unauthorized deforestation. The countries will form a working group to boost action in the 2020s, which will assemble in the first part of next year.
Both sides confirmed the 2015 Paris agreement’s temperature goals and acknowledged a gap between current emissions-cutting efforts and what needs to be done. Both are committed to fighting for a successful COP26, including climate financing agreements and rules to establish a global carbon market.
With the new framework, both sides hope to stay within the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on global warming — an ambitious goal initially set during the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.
“Climate change is becoming an increasingly urgent challenge,” Xie Zhenhua, spokesman for China’s delegation, said to the press at the conference. “We hope this joint declaration will help achieve success at COP26.”
The agreement is also significant because the US-China relationship has worsened over the last half-decade, with rising hostility over disparities in trade, human rights, and global competition. The US Special Envoy for Climate Change, John Kerry, shared the idea, adding, “The world’s two largest economies have pledged to work together in this important decade.”
The accord surprised many of the attendees as the two countries have been locked in a name-calling contest since the start of the climate summit.
From the US, former President Barack Obama slammed China and Russia for a “dangerous lack of urgency” in combating climate change, according to NPR. Xie also launched his attack on Washington, claiming that “[w]e are not like some countries who withdrew from the Paris Agreement after entering into talks.”
If the stakes weren’t the survival of all humanity, all of our world leaders’ brawls would be grimly amusing. But, according to The Guardian, a deal was reached after Kerry met down with Xie to negotiate over the previous three weeks.
Nonetheless, China has declined to join the worldwide pact being pushed by the United States and the European Union to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. Instead, China, according to Xie, would create its own strategic policy.
Although the deal is still in its initial days and might collapse at any moment, it represents a significant step towards climate efforts, specifically when two major rivals agree on some critical issues.