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Friday, December 3, 2021

COP26: Cautious welcome for unexpected US-China climate agreement


Activists and politicians have cautiously welcomed an unexpected US-China declaration vowing to boost climate cooperation in the next decade.

The EU and UN described the move as encouraging and significant, but Greenpeace said both countries needed to demonstrate greater commitment.

The United States and China are the world’s two largest CO2 emitters.

They stated that they would collaborate to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature goal set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The announcement was made by the two global rivals on Wednesday during the ongoing COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to meet virtually as soon as next week.

According to scientists, limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius will help humanity avoid the worst climate impacts. When compared to pre-industrial temperatures, this is significant.

In 2015, world leaders pledged in Paris to try to limit global warming to 1.5°C to 2°C by implementing drastic emissions cuts.

“This announcement comes at a critical moment at COP26 and offers new hope that, with the support and backing of two of the world’s most critical voices, we may be able to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees,” said Genevieve Maricle, director of US climate policy action at pressure group WWF. But we must also be clear about what remains to be done if the two countries are to achieve the necessary emission reductions in the next nine years. 1.5C-alignment will necessitate a total-economy response.”

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan welcomed the declaration as well, but cautioned that both countries needed to demonstrate greater commitment to meeting climate goals.

The announcement, according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, is “an important step in the right direction.”

The collaboration between China and the United States is “really encouraging,” according to EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans.

“It also demonstrates that the United States and China recognise that this issue transcends other concerns.” And it certainly aids us here at the COP in reaching an agreement,” he added.

Meanwhile, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, now president of the Asia Society, which works on global climate change agreements, told the BBC that the agreement was “not a gamechanger,” but it was still a significant step forward.

“The current state of geopolitics between China and the United States is… terrible,” he said, adding that “the fact that you can extract this climate-specific collaboration agreement between Washington and Beijing right now is an important piece of momentum.”

The US-China declaration calls for increased efforts to close the “significant gap” that must be bridged in order to meet the 1.5°C target.

Steps were agreed upon on a variety of issues, including methane emissions, the transition to clean energy, and de-carbonization.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, told reporters that on climate change, “there is more agreement than divergence between China and the US.”

China refused to join an agreement to limit methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, earlier this week, instead promising to develop a “national plan” to address the issue.

China’s chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua said the US and China had held more than 30 virtual meetings

Mr. Xie was followed by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who stated that while the US and China had many differences, climate cooperation was critical.

“Right now, every step counts, and we have a long journey ahead of us,” he said.

China is the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, followed by the United States. Mr. Xi announced in September that China would aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, with a goal of reaching peak emissions before 2030.

The US is aiming for net-zero by 2050.

In other developments at the COP26 climate summit on Wednesday:

  • A draft of a final COP26 deal was announced, with countries being urged to strengthen carbon-cutting targets by the end of 2022. The document also urges more help for vulnerable nations – but the text has been criticised by many for not being ambitious enough
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged other national leaders to give their negotiators more leverage to reach a final deal. Speaking at a news conference, he insisted the ambition of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5C was not yet dead
  • The sentiment was echoed by COP26 President Alok Sharma, who said, “We all know what is at stake in these negotiations and indeed the urgency of our task.” He also suggested “near-final texts” on an agreement could be published overnight before groups convene again tomorrow ahead of the intended final day of the conference on Friday
  • The focus of COP26 on Wednesday was travel. Dozens of countries have promised to phase out petrol and diesel-powered cars but the US, China and Germany haven’t signed up. A number of major manufacturers – including Ford and Mercedes – have pledged commitments too.

COP26 climate summit – The basics

  • Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Governments must promise more ambitious cuts in warming gases if we are to prevent greater global temperature rises.
  • The summit in Glasgow is where change could happen. You need to watch for the promises made by the world’s biggest polluters, like the US and China, and whether poorer countries are getting the support they need.
  • All our lives will change. Decisions made here could impact our jobs, how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we travel.

What will climate change look like for you?

Will the UK meet its climate targets?

How extreme weather is linked to climate change

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