john kerry cop26

US and China unveil surprise carbon emissions deal at COP26

Image credit: reuters

The US and China have released a joint declaration on working together to bolster efforts to tackle climate change during this decade.

The announcement from the two countries - the world’s largest carbon emitters - came as a surprise to delegates of COP26, the international climate change conference held in Glasgow over the last two weeks.

The framework agreement proposes a number of measures including cutting methane emissions, phasing out coal consumption and protecting forests.

US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua made the announcement at COP26 just hours after the head of the United Nations conference said that the climate commitments pledged so far in the talks would do too little to tame climate change.

Kerry said: “The United States and China have no shortage of differences, but on climate co-operation is the only way to get this job done. This is not a discretionary thing, frankly, this is science, it’s maths and physics that dictate the road that we have to travel. And we cannot reach our goals unless all of us work together.

“Every country, China and the United States particularly, as the two largest emitters in the world, both have to help show the way. We need to raise ambition and we need to take action in this decisive decade.”

Xie said: “We will jointly strengthen climate action and cooperation with respect to our national situations and circumstances to accelerate a green and low carbon transition.

“Climate change is a common challenge shared by humanity, it bears on the wellbeing of future generations. Now climate change is becoming increasingly urgent and severe, (turning) it from a future challenge to an existential crisis.”

The joint declaration includes a promise from China to begin phasing out its coal consumption during the five years from 2026-30 as well as cutting emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

A report released in August this year found that China had committed to a series of carbon-intensive projects in the first half of 2021, including a raft of newly approved steel and coal power facilities.

With large facilities such as these often taking several years to complete construction, some of them may be coming online during the period when China has now committed to reducing its coal usage.

However, in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged an end to building new coal-fired projects abroad, even if such a commitment hasn’t been extended to its domestic policies thus far.

Until the joint announcement with the US, observers at the climate talks had expressed concern that Jinping’s absence from COP26 - China's leader has not left his home country since February 2020 - signalled that Beijing would make no substantial new pledges beyond its previous target to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

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