China, US make 'breakthrough' agreement on tackling climate change, but US needs to do more
Deal marks breakthrough, mirrors both countries' determination
Published: Nov 15, 2023 08:55 PM
China US Photo:VCG

China US Photo:VCG

China and the US agreed to jointly tackle global warming and operationalize a working group focused on areas including energy transition, methane, the circular economy and resource efficiency, low-carbon development and deforestation, according to a document issued by China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) on Wednesday. 

Chinese experts hailed the document titled "Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis" as a hard-earned achievement between the two countries amid a thaw in tensions. It paves way for closer global cooperation ahead of the upcoming COP28 climate conference in the UAE, but Washington should also take concrete actions and not walk back its own promises on climate cooperation, experts said.

China and the US decide to operationalize the Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, to engage in dialogue and cooperation and accelerate concrete climate actions. 

China and the US recognize that the climate crisis has increasingly affected countries around the world, remain committed to the effective implementation of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, reflecting equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances, to achieve the Paris Agreement's aims, which is to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2 C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 C, according to the statement.

China and the US decide to operationalize the Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, to engage in dialogue and cooperation and accelerate concrete climate actions in the 2020s. 

The Working Group will focus on the areas of cooperation that have been identified in the document, including on energy transition, methane, circular economy and resource efficiency, low-carbon and sustainable provinces or prefectures and cities, and deforestation, as well as any agreed topics. 

Both countries stress the importance of COP28 in responding meaningfully to the climate crisis during this critical decade and beyond. They are aware of the important role they play in terms of both national responses and working together cooperatively to address the goals of the Paris Agreement and promote multilateralism. 

Chinese scientists hailed the cooperation reached by China and the US this time as a "breakthrough" as it marks a "top-down" approach in which the governments lead a working group to make sure the goals are realized, instead of the usual bottom-up model in climate change discussions, when countries raise their own goals but lack any top design to help them turn the goals into reality, Yang Fuqiang, a research fellow at Peking University's Research Institute for Energy, told the Global Times. 

Yang pointed out that the statement emphasizes effective implementation and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, which are in line with China's stance on differentiated onuses between developed and developing countries in terms of tackling climate change.

"Those signs suggest that both countries are making the most serious commitment ever in climate cooperation," Yang said.

The MEE said that the statement is the fruit of multiple meetings between China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry in China and the US since July.

Climate negotiations between China and the US came to a standstill after former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's highly provocative visit to the island of Taiwan last year. This summer, Kerry was among a slew of high-level US officials to visit China to negotiate with Xie on cooperation on climate change. Xie also went to California from November 4 to 7 this year. 

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, called the statement a hard-earned result not only on climate change, but also a signal of the warming up China-US ties.

"The easing of tension between the two gives each other more impetus to push for more concrete cooperation on issues of mutual concern… take climate change as an example, there were divergences between the two countries on this matter. Now as the ice is thawing, both managed to find ways of resolving those differences," said Li, noting that such a breakthrough agreement between the world's two biggest economies, ahead of COP28, helps pave the way for wider and more meaningful international cooperation on tackling global warming. 

However, Chinese experts also pointed out there is a long to-do list for the US to demonstrate its sincerity on climate cooperation. The US needs to overcome its flip-flopping on climate policies during the transition of office, as Democrats are proactive while Republicans are more suspicious of climate issues, said Li, noting that the uncertainty of US climate policy poses a big challenge for China-US climate cooperation. 

Former president Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change not only put the US at odds with the international community, but hugely jeopardized global effort in tackling global warming. 

Li believes the US should take concrete actions such as shouldering more responsibility to help developing countries adapt to global warming, and remove obstacles imposed on China's green products.

Washington has been seeking to crack down on China's solar panel industry in recent years. The US Senate voted in May this year to reinstate tariffs on solar panels from Chinese companies in Southeast Asia that had been found to be coming into the US which it claimed were "in violation of trade rules."