‘There is no other way to get this thing done’: US and China make pact to cooperate on climate crisis

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The US and China have made a joint declaration at the Cop26 summit to accelerate measures in the 2020s to tackle the climate crisis.

The world’s two largest polluters have committed to a working group for this decade, saying they will “meet regularly” and focus on “concrete actions”. 

A sudden announcement was made on the UN Cop26 website on Wednesday that there would back-to-back press conferences from the nations’ two longtime climate negotiators, Xie Zhenhua and John Kerry.

The Chinese climate envoy spoke first, saying that both countries understood the need to work together because the challenge of climate change is “existential and a severe one”.

There was “more agreement between China and the US than divergence,” he continued.

Mr Kerry followed immediately afterwards. “Together we will take action here at the Cop and also in the years to come,” he said. 

Mr Kerry noted that President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping had had a conversation a couple of weeks ago, and had agreed that despite “areas of real difference, we could cooperate on the climate crisis”.

“There is no other way to get this thing done,” the climate envoy said.

Mr Kerry said that he had begun speaking with Mr Xie, who he has known for many years, about greater cooperation on climate issues back in February. 

Their teams have worked together in “good faith”, meeting more than 30 times in person and virtually, he said.

Watch: Global warming and health risks?

They agreed to a “basic framework”, he said, noting there was a shared desire for success at Cop26 on “all of the key issues”.

He called the new climate pact “a roadmap”.

President Xi announced last year that China will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, and aim to peak emissions before 2030. The US has said it will reach net zero by 2050, and has set a goal to reach 100 per cent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.

“We have to be honest about the progress,” Mr Kerry said, alluding to the fears that Cop26 will not produce the progress needed to keep the 1.5C of the Paris Agreement within reach. A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 per cent is needed this decade to get there. Mr Kerry called this a “tall order”.

Notably, he said that China and the US would work together to limit methane – the single, fastest way to limit global heating. He also said there was an understanding that unabated coal use had to be curtailed and forest protections enforced.

“This is a step we can build on,” Mr Kerry said. “Every step matters right now and we have a long journey ahead of us.”

It is a shift from the rhetoric being used earlier at the climate conference. During his appearance last week, President Biden criticised President Xi for his absence in Glasgow. “It’s a gigantic issue and they’ve walked away,” he said.

The announcement came soon after the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, made a flying visit to Scotland to drum up ambition at the summit. He acknowledged there was much work still to be done after promising pledges (albeit with many caveats) in the first few days on methane, deforestation and cutting coal use. 

Mr Johnson called it “very frustrating” to see nations “that have spent six years conspicuously patting themselves on the back for signing that promissory note in Paris, quietly edging towards default, now that vulnerable nations and future generations are demanding payment here, now in Glasgow”.

He described the final days of Cop26 as the “hard yards, the nuts and bolts of international climate diplomacy, and the negotiations are getting tough”.

Nick Mabey, the chief executive and co-founder of European think tank E3G, said the US-China announcement had big, geopolitical significance.”

“They will now build climate cooperation bilaterally & multilateral fora,” he said in a statement. “This high-profile commitment puts pressure on both countries to move their positions to make C 26 a success.”

Watch: What will the world look like in 2030, 2040, 2050?

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