U.S. and China put aside differences to push for joint climate action at COP26

November 10, 2021, 8:03 PM UTC

The U.S. and China pledged to work together on climate action on Wednesday evening, in a surprise announcement that is expected to inject new energy into the climate summit in its final days.

“As I’ve said many times, China and the United States have no shortage of differences. But on climate, cooperation is the only way to get things done,” said John Kerry, the U.S. presidential envoy for climate. “This is not a discretionary thing, frankly. This is science.”

China’s chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said shortly before that “there is more agreement than divergence,” between the two countries on climate.

“Climate change is a common challenge faced by humanity…Now [it is] becoming more urgent and severe,” he said. The two countries are committed to making their cooperation “more concrete and more pragmatic,” he added.

The joint declaration pledged that the two countries would step up their collaboration for climate action within this decade—a critical one for halving global emissions. That included a pledge to address methane emissions. Last week, a landmark methane pledge to lower emissions by 30% by 2030 did not have China as a signatory. The joint declaration also pledged to form a task force to further discuss and cooperate on climate policy.

Kerry said the agreement had been in the works since February, and the two countries have had 30 meetings to collaborate.

Facing questions from reporters on the country’s differences, including on human rights issues in Xinjiang, Kerry said that the two countries had to be able to speak despite their differences, and compared the decision to former President Ronald Reagan’s agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík in October 1986 to begin the process of nuclear disarmament.

However, the pledge, while symbolic, lacked a fresh date for when emissions would peak in China, outside of China’s own pledge to hit net zero by 2060, 10 years after the deadline stipulated by the Paris Agreement.

The announcement comes the same day that the COP26 climate draft document was announced—to mixed reviews. Although that draft contained some promising lines on near-term emissions reductions, experts pointed out that it fell far short of the pledges made by world leaders in the first two days of the event, and that one of the key questions was whether the U.S. and EU would step up their leadership efforts to make the deal more ambitious.

Asked if that draft would now change, Kerry was circumspect but hinted that changes were expected. “I think over the next hours this will begin to take shape, and we’ll see where we’re going.”

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