US, China commit to climate cooperation ahead of summit

Published April 19, 2021
In this photo taken on March 10, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks to the press as he leaves after a meeting with the French president at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. - AFP
In this photo taken on March 10, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks to the press as he leaves after a meeting with the French president at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris. - AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States and China are “committed to cooperating” on the pressing issue of climate change, the two sides said on Saturday, issuing the pledge days ahead of a key summit hosted by President Joe Biden.

The joint statement came after a trip to Shanghai by US climate envoy John Kerry, the first official from Biden’s administration to visit China, signaling hopes the two sides could work together on the global challenge despite sky-high tensions on multiple other fronts.

But to achieve the global climate goal, Kerry said words must be put into action and urged China to reduce its use of coal.

“The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” said the statement from Kerry and China’s special envoy for climate change Xie Zhenhua.

It listed multiple avenues of climate cooperation between the world’s top two economies which together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

It stressed “enhancing their respective actions and cooperating in multilateral processes, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.” Both countries also “look forward” to a virtual climate summit of world leaders that Biden will host next week, though the statement did not say if Chinese President Xi Jinping would attend.

“We very much hope he will take part,” Kerry, who is now in South Korea, told reporters on Sunday.

“Of course, every country will make its own decisions,” he said, adding: “We’re not seeking to force anybody. We’re seeking cooperation.”

China currently has about half of the world’s coal power, Kerry said, adding that he “talked a lot” about it with officials in Shanghai. “I am not pointing fingers,” said Kerry.

“We’ve had too much coal, other countries have too much coal, but China is the biggest, biggest coal user in the world,” he added.

“And because it’s such a big and powerful economy and country, it needs to move.” Biden has made climate a top priority, turning the page from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry.

The US president has rejoined the 2015 Paris accord, which Kerry negotiated when he was secretary of state, and committed nations to taking action to keep the temperature from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

With the world badly off track to meeting the goal, Biden hopes his summit will result in stronger pledges in advance of UN-led climate talks in Glasgow at the end of the year.

According to their statement, both Washington and Beijing “intend to develop” their respective long-term strategies to achieve carbon neutrality by the Glasgow meeting.

Other moves in the near term include boosting “international investment and finance” to support the transition to green energy in developing countries, as well as phasing out production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, gases used in refrigeration, air conditioners and aerosols.

Longer-term actions that need to be taken to keep the temperature goals of the Paris accord “within reach” include reducing emissions from industry and power generation while stepping up renewable energy, clean transportation and climate-resistant agriculture.

The United States and China’s pledge to cooperate on climate follows recent acrimony over accusations about China’s policies in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uyghurs in its northwestern Xinjiang region — criticisms Beijing rejects as interference in its domestic affairs.

If the United States refuses to work with China on climate because of other disagreements, “you’re just killing yourself,” Kerry told CNN before his trip to Shanghai.

Li Shuo, a policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia, said the joint statement showed the “unequivocal commitment” of the United States and China in tackling climate change and should “put global climate momentum back on high gear.” “The difficult meetings in Shanghai bore fruit. Let that move the politics closer to where science requires us to be,” he said.

China — the world’s biggest polluter — has announced an ambitious target to be carbon-neutral by 2060, but analysts have warned high reliance on coal and modest short-term targets could scupper the ambition.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021

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