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US & China Agreement Sets The Tone For COP28

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The US and China will back a new global renewables target and work together on methane and plastic pollution, they said in a joint statement after a meeting to find common ground ahead of COP28 talks in Dubai later this month.

The partnership between the world’s two biggest emitting countries is seen as a crucial element to securing more climate action consensus at COP28. The US and China each hold ignoble 1st place climate awards: the US is the biggest climate polluter in history, and China is the world’s largest polluter right now. Together, they account for 38% of the world’s greenhouse gases (GHGs).

David Sanger of the New York Times noted an apparent shift in the power dynamic between President Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping, who met earlier this week for 4 hours. The product of that conversation was an agreement to sharply increase clean energy, displace fossil fuels, and reduce the emissions that are warming the planet.

“Alarmed by the best available scientific findings including the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, the United States and China 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 aim in accordance with its Article 2 to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees C, including efforts to keep 1.5 degrees C within reach.” 

The agreement laid out the following points, among others:

  • Both countries agreed to “pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030.”
  • Such renewable energy levels are designed “so as to accelerate the substitution for coal, oil, and gas generation.”
  • Both countries look ahead to “meaningful absolute power sector emission reduction” in this decade.

The Working Group will focus on the energy transition, methane, circular economy and resource efficiency, low-carbon and sustainable provinces/states & cities, and deforestation, as well as any agreed-upon topics. Their 2024 national climate pledges will include reduction targets for GHG emissions beyond carbon dioxide and include methane and nitrous oxide. China previously has been reluctant to deal with methane as part of climate pollution reductions; an important next step will be for China to establish concrete methane targets.

As is always the case, critics are bemoaning the extent and pace of the agreement, yet few are arguing that the resumption of collaborative work between the US and China is a significant step toward setting ambitious new targets and providing momentum going into COP28.

Perhaps most importantly, both sides have agreed to restart the US – China Energy Efficiency Forum to deepen policy exchanges on energy saving and carbon reducing solutions in key areas including industry, buildings, transportation, and equipment. Unveiled in 2010, the US – China Energy Efficiency Forum has been a public-private partnership that convened industry representatives from both countries to unlock commercial opportunities in energy efficiency while meeting energy and environmental goals.

The Importance of the US/ China Climate Agreement ahead of COP28

The launch of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1971 was the beginning of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP). It has convened member countries every year since then, with the objectives to determine ambition and responsibilities and identify and assess climate measures. At the 21st UN session, or COP21, the Paris Agreement was articulated. It mobilized global collective action to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2100; it also set parameters for member countries to act to adapt to the already existing effects of climate change.

In 2 weeks from now, representatives from nearly 200 countries will join together in Dubai as part of COP28. Critics are already discounting the conference, as so many governments continue to work behind the scenes to assuage the fossil fuel industry. Fears remain that broad pronouncements will be threaded with nonbinding commitments that have little chance to be enacted.

The US and China are emphasizing the importance of COP 28 to work toward climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for the next decade. They accept the responsibility for the important roles they have in their own countries as well as on the global stage to enact pragmatic initiatives, to harness the Working Group to to address the goals of the Paris Agreement, and promote multilateralism.

Clever Suggestions To Continue US/ China Conversations

While everyone can breathe a little easier now that the US and China are discussing climate action, another very important topic is looming out there: What about the pandas? Don’t despair — Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated in general terms that China will send new pandas to the US in what he described as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.” Xi did not offer particulars about the pandas, but California seems a likely destination home for these gentle-looking bears, which have symbolized US – China cooperation since 1972. That’s when the National Zoo in Washington became the first place for pandas in the US. Later, China loaned pandas to other US zoos, with proceeds going back to panda conservation programs.

“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” Xi said Wednesday during a dinner speech with business leaders.

Panda lovers weren’t the only ones who looked at the lighter side of the Biden – Xi meetup. Late night talk show hosts had lots of material with which to work. Stephen Colbert noted that “Biden and Xi would not put out a joint statement after the meeting. So it’s just going to be a case of ‘He said, Xi said.’” Jimmy Kimmel compared the two leaders to “the diplomatic version of a married couple dropping the kids at the in-laws to spend the night at a hotel, to see if they can get things back on track.”

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Orchestra is engaging in their own diplomacy this weekend, as they’re in Beijing for 2 weeks of concerts mingling US and Chinese musicians, master classes, chamber music performances, and panel discussions. “It may seem naïve to argue that a symphony orchestra can help solve the world’s problems,” Matías Tarnopolsky, president and chief executive of the Philadelphia Orchestra, wrote in a New York Times editorial. “But a lifetime in music has convinced me that it’s not only worth the effort to try to do our part; it is our responsibility.”


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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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