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10 November 2021updated 11 Nov 2021 11:19am

US-China Cop26 deal: superpowers promise to put aside differences and work together on climate ambition

A joint declaration by the world's two biggest emitters could kickstart more action and ambition in Glasgow.

By Philippa Nuttall

GLASGOW – Rumours have been circulating all day at Cop26 that China and the US were having more meetings than was perhaps usual. The result: at 6pm Glasgow time on 10 November the two superpowers came out with a bilateral declaration on their joint commitment to work to keep warming below 1.5°C and to enhance climate action in the 2020s.

The declaration sets out “how we will limit warming on this planet and take action here at the Cop and in the years to come”, the US climate envoy John Kerry told journalists. 

US president Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping decided in a call “a couple of weeks ago” to set aside other geopolitical differences for the future of humanity, said Kerry.

“The US and China have no shortage of differences but on climate, cooperation is the only way to get the job done,” said Kerry. “I look forward to stepping up work with China and making progress…We have the opportunity to produce a cleaner, safer and healthier world for our citizens.” 

“We share the desire for success at Cop, on adaption, mitigation and on all of the key ambitions,” he added. “[The declaration] is a strong statement about the alarming scene, the emissions gap and the acceleration needed to close that gap.”

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“We are committed to carrying out concrete actions” to implement climate pledges, said the Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua. He added that the two countries would hold “policy dialogues” on a range of issues including coal, clean energy and electricity generation. “We need to think big and be responsible,” said Xie. Cooperation would bring “benefits to our people and people around the world”.  

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The declaration announced on Wednesday 10 November was the result of more than 30 meetings between the two countries since February, said Kerry. While negotiators from other delegations agreed it was normal for the US and China to work closely together, the declaration seemed to come as a surprise.  

The text contains little in the way of new policies, except perhaps China’s pledge to have a concrete plan by Cop27 next year in Egypt about how it will control and reduce methane emissions. China was notably absent from last week’s Global Methane Declaration.

But it suggests the countries are prepared to be more ambitious, and was cautiously welcomed by delegates and climate campaigners. 

“Good news that the US and China have found common ground on climate,” said the European commission vice-president Frans Timmermans. “This is a challenge that transcends politics. Bilateral cooperation between the two biggest emitters should boost negotiations at Cop26.”

The significance of the deal was “geopolitical”, said Nick Mabey, chief executive and co-founder of the think tank E3G. “The US and China have signalled they will end the war of words that marred past days. They will now build climate cooperation bilaterally and in multilateral fora. This high-profile commitment puts pressure on both countries to move their positions to make Cop26 a success.” 

“We could leave this place not working together,” said Kerry, “or we can leave here with people working together and begin to move down a better road.”

As Kerry left the Cop venue, one delegate signalled his approval. “Secretary Kelly, good work,” he said from the queue for the cloakroom. The US envoy responded with a thumbs up.

[see also: Cop26 diaries: Meaning business]

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