China and the US give surprise declaration on climate cooperation

After a frosty first week of relations at the Glasgow COP between the world’s two largest emitters, a “Joint Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s” came as a welcome surprise to many climate watchers.

“The joint declaration will add a calming effect to the COP26 talks,” Wu Changhua, acting director of the Professional Association for China’s Environment (PACE), told Yicai.

The US and China “declare their intention to work individually, jointly, and with other countries during this decisive decade, in accordance with different national circumstances,” the declaration read. It affirms the two sides’ commitment to a number of Paris Agreement climate objectives, including keeping global average temperature rise “well below 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees C.” 

Alongside a list of five broad areas of cooperation, the declaration also listed areas of intended cooperation on reducing CO2 emissions and stated the two sides’ current policies on reducing emissions from the energy sector.

Perhaps most surprising was a “recognition” of methane as contributing to climate change and the listing of a series of unilateral and bilateral work areas to address the issue. Among these is China’s pledge to develop a National Action Plan on methane before the opening of the next COP. The two sides also intend to meet in the first half of next year specifically to discuss measuring and mitigating methane. Last week, China was absent from the Global Methane Pledge launched on 2 November. 

UNEP figures quoted by Yicai indicate that the two principal sectors for methane emission reductions for China will be fossil fuel energy, particularly gas, and agriculture.

The announcement builds on meetings between China’s special representative on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, and his US counterpart, John Kerry, earlier this year. The two sides had a face to face meeting in London prior to the Glasgow COP.

The declaration states the two countries’ intention to establish a “Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, which will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral proces.”

Xie summarised the moment, saying “Chinese–American cooperation [on climate] is the only correct choice” and he expressed hopes that the two sides can “uncover more potential for cooperation”. 

Read an article from China Dialogue earlier this year on the case for a US–China Decarbonisation Working Group.