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China and US unveil surprise climate pact at COP26 summit

China and the United States vowed to work together to accelerate climate action this decade.

Blowing smoke: Companies across of range of industries have been accused of "greenwashing", instead of making real changes to fight climate change. — © AFP
Blowing smoke: Companies across of range of industries have been accused of "greenwashing", instead of making real changes to fight climate change. — © AFP

China and the United States on Wednesday vowed to work together to accelerate climate action this decade, in a surprise new pact in the face of global warming that is already wreaking disasters across the world.

The announcement came as the crunch COP26 summit in Glasgow entered its pivotal final days, with negotiators wrestling over ways to limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

“This document contains strong statements about the alarming science, the emissions gap, and the urgent need to accelerate action to close that gap,” US special envoy John Kerry told reporters in a surprise announcement.

“It commits to a series of important actions now this decade when it is needed.”

The plan is light on concrete targets but heavy on political symbolism at a conference that began with the US and China — the world’s two biggest emitters — seemingly at loggerheads.

Last week US President Joe Biden criticised the decision of China’s President Xi Jinping not to attend the Glasgow summit, saying China “walked away”.

China hit back at the time, but ties appear to have thawed ahead of long-awaited bilateral talks next week.

On Wednesday both US and China envoys stressed their countries’ collaboration, saying they had agreed to put other differences aside to work on climate.

“Both sides recognise that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris Agreement goals so we will jointly strengthen climate action,” Beijing’s longtime climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said.

– ‘Seriousness and urgency’ –

A document outlining the agreement includes a focus on lowering methane emissions, which Kerry described as the “single fastest and most effective way to limit warming”.

It says the two sides will meet regularly to “address the climate crisis”.

The document also stresses the need to boost emissions efforts in the short term, with scientists warning that emissions efforts before 2030 are crucial for halting catastrophic global warming.

The declaration said both countries “recognise the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis”.

“They are committed to tackling it through their respective accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s,” the document said.

China and US are the two largest emitters in the world and together account for nearly 40 percent of all carbon pollution.

The US has already said it plans to be carbon neutral by 2050, while China announced its intention last month to reach net-zero emissions before 2060.

The 2015 Paris climate accord commits nations to work towards limiting global temperature rises to between 1.5C and 2C through sweeping emissions cuts.

The United Nations said that all countries emissions cutting plans, taken together, were currently set to warm Earth 2.7C by 2100.

UN chief Antonio Guterres welcomed the US-China pact.

“Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction,” he said on Twitter.

– ‘No excuse’ –

Negotiators are in Glasgow to work out how to keep to the Paris Agreement degree limits, as countries across the world are battered by ever-fiercer floods, droughts and storms linked to rising temperatures.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier that countries have “no excuse” for failure.

Wednesday saw the release of draft text “decisions”, which were the first real indication of where nations are 10 days into deeply technical discussions.

The text, which is liable to change during ministerial debates, called for nations to “revisit and strengthen” their decarbonisation plans by next year, instead of 2025 as previously agreed.

The Paris accord contains a “ratchet” mechanism requiring countries to update emissions plans every five years.

But several large emitters missed the 2020 deadline for submitting new plans, known as nationally determined contributions. Others handed in plans that were no more ambitious — or even less so — than their initial plans.

Vulnerable nations say that the next deadline, in 2025, is too distant to deliver essential short-term emissions cuts.

“Rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions” were needed to avert the worst impacts of heating, the text said.

In what observers said was a “significant first mention” of the fuels driving global warming, the draft summit called on countries to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”.

Last week more than 100 countries — but not China — signed a pledge to slash methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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