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Display of joint leadership

By NICHOLAS STERN/XIE CHUNPING | China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-16 08:08
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This decade is a crucial time for global cooperation and coordination on climate action

China and the United States have published a historic joint declaration of their determination to work together to tackle climate change.

The two countries are the world's largest emitters. Together, they account for about 40 percent of the world's annual emissions of greenhouse gases.

Their joint declaration on enhancing climate action in the 2020s provided a welcome boost to the negotiations at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow.

Amid rising geopolitical tensions, this is an important declaration. It recognizes that the 2020s will be a decade of fundamental importance for the world, and it responds to the urgent need for coordinated action by all countries to tackle the climate crisis.

In fact, the next 10 years will be a critical time for the whole world. Stronger cooperation and a commitment to multilateralism are crucial to confront global threats, such as infectious diseases, biodiversity loss and climate change.

The declaration reestablishes collaboration between China and the US on actions to combat climate change. Chinese President Xi Jinping and former US president Barack Obama created momentum for the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015 by issuing a joint statement a year earlier committing to strong action. Their action and their determination to work together on climate issues are crucial to the future of us all. They have been working together as co-chairs of the G20 working group on sustainable finance, but this is a major step beyond that.

China and the US are setting an example by showing that they can navigate a complex geopolitical relationship to promote the common good.

China has taken several significant steps over the past few years to strengthen its action on climate change, and such actions are being intensified following President Xi's announcement that the country will peak its annual emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060. The country will also limit the growth in the consumption of coal during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25) and reduce coal use during the 15th Five-Year Plan period (2026-30).President Xi has also said that it will stop financing overseas coal projects.

Significantly, the joint declaration with the US reiterates that China will "phase down coal consumption during the 15th Five-Year Plan and make best efforts to accelerate this work". Such acceleration could mean that China's emissions peak around the middle of the decade.

The declaration also identified some key areas for collaboration, to close the gap between climate efforts so far and the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, in line with "different national circumstances".

It is critical to promote a greater understanding of climate actions, policy and progress on each side. China is often criticized unfairly, and indeed in apparent ignorance, by some other countries for a perceived lack of action on climate change.

The creation of the announced joint China-US Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s is an important initiative that can help accelerate action through enhanced communication, dialogue and information sharing, and provides an opportunity to build trust and to confront any obstacles that may arise.

China and the US have also found common ground on the importance of reducing methane emissions, emphasizing their intention to cooperate on strengthening management and control of this powerful greenhouse gas. The Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in August, attributed 30 percent of warming to date to methane emissions, and this is by far the most important statement that China has made on this important driver of climate change.

Both countries have agreed to cooperate on the implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on the development of international markets for carbon offsetting. This could help the development of clear international standards to promote the effective functioning of carbon markets, including the voluntary purchase of offsets by companies, which could mobilize billions of dollars of investment in developing countries.

The two major powers have also agreed to communicate new nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement in 2025 with targets for 2035. However, given the shortfall in planned emissions reductions in relation to the 1.5 C target, the world needs revised and more ambitious nationally determined contributions from all countries well before 2025.

It was important that the efforts in Glasgow by China and the US were led by individuals who are hugely experienced and greatly respected. China's special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry have shown great integrity and warmth in their interactions, essential to building mutual confidence and trust. It is clear that they recognize the importance of promoting the best interests of all countries.

This important display of joint leadership by China and the US should help the world to accelerate the transition to sustainable, inclusive and resilient economies, and a more peaceful and prosperous world. There is still much that needs to be done by all countries, and the world's largest emitters must lead by example.

Nicholas Stern is I.G. Patel professor of economics and government and chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Xie Chunping is a policy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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