The two biggest greenhouse gas emitters of the world announced they will be working together to combat global warming at COP26, describing the climate crisis as  “existential”. 

What is Happening? 

The US and China have made a rare and unexpected joint declaration to cooperate on what they describe as “an existential crisis” at the COP26 climate summit on Wednesday, November 10, injecting new momentum into the final days of the climate negotiations. 

Tensions between the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters have been palpable both in the first week of the UN climate conference and in the lead up to it, with US President Joe Biden criticising Chinese President Xi Jinping for not attending the summit in person. But the two countries unveiled a surprise announcement pledge that they will work closely together to cut emissions in order to limit global warming to under 1.5C pre-industrial levels in the next 10 years. 

“We both see that the challenge of climate change is an existential and severe one,” said Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. “In the area of climate change, there is more agreement between China and the US than there is disagreement.”

“Both sides recognise that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris agreement goals, so we will jointly strengthen our Paris efforts and cooperation … to accelerate a green and low carbon transition.”

Xie’s counterpart and US climate envoy John Kerry echoed his message, saying the two countries have agreed to work together to “raise climate ambition in this decisive decade”, and that “this declaration is a step that we can build on to close the gap [between the emissions cuts set out so far and those needed]. Every step matters. We have a long journey ahead of us.”

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Many have expressed their disappointment over the lack of updated climate pledges and ambitions from the two superpowers. The US simply reiterated its goal of halving emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels and avoided joining a 40+ countries pact to phase out coal. China said during the first of the climate talks that it is sticking to carbon peaking by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2060. 

The joint declaration provides a much-needed boost in the climate negotiations, and could push for a stronger outcome from COP26. The summit’s draft text published on Wednesday is already calls for tougher emissions pledges by 2022.

The US and China have found common ground on outstanding issues in the negotiations including setting five-year climate targets rather than 10-year ones, climate finance and rules to create a global carbon market, as well as cutting methane and carbon emissions from transport, energy and industry.

The two countries will establish a working group to increase action in the 2020s which will focus on “concrete” measures. However, China has already declined to join the global methane pledge to slash methane emissions 30% by the end of decade, saying it will develop its own national plan instead.

The bilateral agreement also comes aheads of a virtual summit likely to be held next week between Presidents Xi and Biden, where more details and commitments are expected to be announced. 

Featured image by: United States Mission Geneva/Flickr