The US and China have pledged to work together to urgently combat climate change, despite growing tensions over Beijing’s assertive policies towards Taiwan and the South China Sea and over human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the climate envoys for the world’s two largest economies, have vowed to work together “to tackle the climate crisis” and commit to “concrete actions in the 2020s” to reduce emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
“Both countries recall their historic contribution to the development, approval, signing and entry into force of the Paris Agreement through their leadership and cooperation,” they said in a joint statement.
The pledge, following two days of high-stakes rallies in Shanghai, is a signal that climate change could be a rare area of cooperation in a tense relationship.
US President Joe Biden’s climate policy has already deviated significantly from that of his predecessor Donald Trump’s administration, pushing the US back into the Paris Accord, pending the setting of a new 2030 climate target.
On the way to the Kerry and Xie meetings in Shanghai, however, environmentalists said a US-China deal on climate change was far from guaranteed.
Li Shuo, an energy policy officer with Greenpeace in Beijing, said the US-China statement followed “difficult talks” and “came in the midst of major geopolitical challenges.” But it should greatly boost momentum for climate action worldwide.
“It is very important for the rest of the world to understand that the G2 is at least united again on climate change,” said Li.
He added, “We all know what can happen when these countries align with this particular issue, because we’ve all seen that in the run-up to the Paris climate summit.”
Kerry’s trip to China came ahead of a US summit this week, heralded as a showcase for Biden’s new climate policy, and as Beijing vies to be seen as a leader in global climate negotiations.
In the statement, the countries pledged to cooperate in multilateral processes. This includes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, as well as the COP26 climate change conference to be held in Glasgow in November.
“The United States and China will continue to discuss, both on the way to COP 26 and beyond, concrete measures in the 2020s to reduce emissions, aimed at keeping the temperature limit agreed in the Paris Agreement within reach,” said Kerry and Xie.
Edgare Kerkwijk, a board member of the Asia Wind Energy Association, said that while the US-China statement “offers only a high degree of commitment” and lacked detail, the joint pledges will accelerate the global transition from fossil fuels.
“The likelihood that we will reach a more comprehensive climate agreement at the upcoming climate conference in Glasgow has increased significantly,” says Kerkwijk, adding: “It will be more difficult for smaller economies not to participate in the energy transition process.”
The meetings took place against the backdrop of intensified clashes between Washington and Beijing, as Joe Biden’s government is taking a tough stance on China.
The US is opposed to Beijing’s measures to reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
It has also put pressure on tech companies with alleged ties to the Chinese military.
In the latest flare-up, the Chinese embassy in the US capital slammed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Biden’s comments on Saturday opposing an escalation of military activity near Taiwan and in the South China Sea.