COP26: China and US agree to boost climate co-operation

China and the US have agreed to boost climate co-operation over the next decade, in a surprise announcement at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The world’s two biggest CO2 emitters pledged to act in a joint declaration.

It says both sides will “recall their firm commitment to work together” to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

They called for stepped-up efforts to close the “significant gap” that remains to achieve that target.

Scientists say that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C will help humanity avoid the worst climate impacts. This is compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

At Paris in 2015, world leaders pledged to try to keep the world from warming by more than between 1.5C to 2C through sweeping emissions cuts.

China’s top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters that on climate change “there is more agreement between China and US than divergence”.

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to hold a virtual meeting as early as next week. The two countries are seen as global rivals on a number of issues.

In Wednesday’s rare joint declaration, there were steps agreed on a range of issues including methane emissions, the transition to clean energy, and de-carbonisation.

But China refused to join an agreement earlier this week to limit methane – a harmful greenhouse gas. The agreement was signed by nearly 100 other countries. China has instead pledged to develop a “national plan” to address methane.

Mr Xie was followed by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who said the US and China “have no shortage of differences, but on climate, co-operation is the only way to get this job done”.

“Every step matters right now and we have a long journey ahead of us,” he said.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan welcomed the declaration between China and the US, but warned that both countries needed to show greater commitment to reaching climate goals.

“Ultimately their statement falls short of the call by the climate vulnerable countries demanding that nations come back to the table every year with greater ambition until the 1.5C gap is closed”, she said.

EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said it was “really encouraging” to see China and the US working together. “It shows also that the US and China know this subject transcends other issues. And it certainly helps us here at COP to come to an agreement”, he added.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the announcement was “an important step in the right direction.”

COP26 is the biggest climate change conference since landmark talks in Paris in 2015. Some 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming, by 2030.