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US, China agreement set to spur global climate action

A woman displays a placard during a rally as part of a global climate change campaign at Sanur beach on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on 20 September, 2019. (AFP Photo). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SINGAPORE, Apr 19, 2021, AFP/NYT. The United States and China will work together to tackle the urgent threat of climate change, both sides said in a joint pledge days ahead of a key summit to be hosted by President Joe Biden, The Straits Times reported.

“The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” read a statement issued after talks between Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry in Shanghai.

Mr Kerry’s trip is the first high-level visit to China by a Biden administration official. It is a rare sign of cooperation between the world’s top two economies, whose relationship has soured because of disputes over Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber security and human rights concerns in China’s Xinjiang region.

“It is very important for us to try to keep those other things away because climate is a life-or-death issue in so many different parts of the world,” Mr Kerry said in an interview on Sunday (April 18) in Seoul.

The agreement between the world’s top two greenhouse gas polluters – together they emit nearly half of mankind’s carbon emissions – is likely to bolster Mr Biden’s climate summit on Thursday and Friday. It is also a return to the US-China leadership that helped seal the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement in which Mr Kerry and Mr Xie were key players.

Mr Biden has made climate change a cornerstone of his administration and has invited 40 world leaders, including China’s President Xi Jinping, for his virtual summit that he hopes will prompt more ambitious steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

A strong US-China partnership is also a major boost for the COP26 United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in November. The UN says national climate pledges are far below what is needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets of keeping global warming to well below 2 deg C and ideally 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels.

The US is expected to deliver its new pledge this week to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to win back trust from foreign allies.

China has also yet to announce its new or updated climate pledge under the Paris pact and is increasingly under pressure to reveal how it will rein in its use of polluting coal and other measures to meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2060. China is by far the world’s top coal consumer and generates about half of the world’s coal-fired power.

“The joint US-China climate statement highlights the unequivocal commitment of both countries to work together in addressing the climate crisis,” Mr Li Shuo, senior climate adviser for the environmental group Greenpeace, said in a tweet on Sunday.

“This should hopefully enhance the chance for higher ambition from China. The domestic conditions are becoming mature and it is in the country’s self interest to embrace more. To ban coal finance and introduce an absolute carbon target are good ways to demonstrate political will,” he said.

Analysts are looking to see if President Xi will offer more details during this week’s Boao Asia Forum.

In their statement, Mr Xie and Mr Kerry said both countries intend to develop by COP26 their respective long-term strategies aimed at net-zero emissions/carbon neutrality.

Other moves in the near term include boosting investment and finance to support the transition to green energy in developing countries, as well as phasing out production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons – gases used in refrigeration, air-conditioners and aerosols.

Additional information from Agence France-Presse and NYTimes

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