US and China pledge to tackle climate crisis together

During John Kerry's visit, both countries affirmed their "intention to develop" a long-term strategy to achieve carbon neutrality at COP26
El enviado presidencial especial de EE.UU. para el clima, John Kerry AFP/LUDOVIC MARIN

AFP/LUDOVIC MARIN  -   US Special Presidential Climate Envoy, John Kerry

Washington and Beijing have managed to find common ground in the fight against climate change. In a statement, the two countries agreed to "enhance their respective actions" against climate change and "cooperate in multilateral processes" to combat the climate crisis, which "must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency it requires". The announcement, after three days of talks between US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in Shanghai, comes as China and the US remain at loggerheads over issues such as human rights in the Xinjiang region and Hong Kong, Beijing's pressures on Taiwan and their technology war.

On his first day in the Oval Office, Joe Biden decreed America's return to the Paris Agreement, reversing the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump, who had withdrawn his country from the Paris Agreement on the grounds that it harmed US businesses. The agreement, negotiated by John Kerry, then president Barack Obama's secretary of state, commits signatory nations to take steps to keep temperature increases to no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. In this regard, Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, have promised in the statement that their two countries, the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, will take specific and more ambitious measures over the decade to reduce emissions in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, aiming to "pursue those efforts", including the adoption of "enhanced climate action" with the goal of keeping "within reach" that limit on global temperature rise and cooperate to "identify and address challenges and opportunities" in this area.

Xie Zhenhua, representante especial de China para Asuntos de Cambio Climático PHOTO/REUTERS
PHOTO/REUTERS-Xie Zhenhua, China's Special Representative for Climate Change Issues

Although the world is not on track to meet the target, Biden hopes that his summit, convened for 22-23 April, a gathering of 40 leaders where a majority of countries need to commit to raising their emissions reduction targets to meet the Paris Agreement, will lead to stronger commitments ahead of the UN-led climate talks in Glasgow later this year. According to the statement, Washington and Beijing "intend to develop" their long-term strategies for achieving carbon neutrality before the COP 26 summit in Scotland. They further state that they intend to take appropriate actions to "maximise international investment and financing to support the transition from carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based energy to green, low-carbon and renewable energy in developing countries".

del presidente chino Xi Jinping asistiendo a una cumbre de vídeo sobre el cambio climático con la canciller alemana Angela Merkel y el presidente francés Emmanuel Macron, en una calle comercial en Beijing, China el 16 de abril de 2021 REUTERS/FLORENCE LO
REUTERS/FLORENCE LO-Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a video summit on climate change with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, at a shopping street in Beijing, China April 16, 2021.

While Kerry and Beijing representatives met in Shanghai, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a videoconference meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French head of state Emmanuel Macron to discuss the climate crisis. Xi, for his part, has reiterated on several occasions that such an agreement is "an irreversible process" and a "compass" for "strong action" on climate, and that his country intends to "make unprecedented efforts to secure the future of new generations" and "intensify international efforts" in the fight against climate change.

Gráfico que muestra los puntos clave del acuerdo climático de París, aplicado por 196 países en diciembre de 2015 AFP/AFP
AFP/AFP-Chart showing the key points of the Paris climate agreement, implemented by 196 countries in December 2015.

In the absence of the United States during Trump's presidency, China has taken on a major role alongside the European Union in the fight against climate change, with President Xi notably pledging last year to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Chinese diplomacy this week mocked Washington's new tone, saying that rather than a "glorious comeback" it was "a bad student going back to school after skipping classes".

At the first high-level summit between US and Chinese foreign and security policymakers, the US has accused the Asian giant of "threatening the rules-based (world) order that maintains global stability". This first high-level summit turned into a diplomatic battle between the two powers that, instead of bringing positions closer together, has caused an even greater rift between the two sides.