US, China agree to work on climate change amid tensions
SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and China have said they will fight climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands” by stepping up efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a rare demonstration of cooperation amid escalating tensions over a raft of other issues.
The agreement, which included few specific commitments, was announced Saturday night, Washington time, after President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, visited China for three days of talks in which the negotiators managed not to be sidetracked by those disputes.
“It’s 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,” Kerry said Sunday morning in Seoul, where he met with South Korean officials.
“What we need to do is prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively.”
The agreement comes days before Biden is scheduled to hold a virtual climate summit with world leaders, hoping to prod countries to do more to reduce emissions and limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Many scientists now argue that warming must be kept below that threshold to avert catastrophic disruptions to life on the planet.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is among those invited to the virtual summit. While he has yet to publicly accept the invitation, the agreement with Washington appeared to make his participation more likely.
On Friday, Xi said that China remained committed
to climate goals he had announced last fall, including a promise that its carbon emissions would peak before 2030. At the same time, Xi suggested that the world’s most advanced nations had a responsibility to take the lead in making deeper cuts.
In what seemed to be a retort to the United States, he warned that the climate issue should not be “a bargaining chip for geopolitics” or “an excuse for trade barriers.”
“This is undoubtedly a tough battle,” Xi said in a conference call with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, according to an account of the meeting issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The White House has signaled that Biden will announce more ambitious plans for reducing emissions domestically, after four years in which his predecessor, Donald Trump, disparaged the issue.
“We’ve seen commitments before where everybody falls short,” Kerry said.
“We’re all falling short. The entire world right now is falling short.”
Kerry met in Shanghai with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, over three days, in talks that at one point went late into the night. Kerry said they stayed focused on climate change and did not touch on increasingly rancorous disputes over issues like China’s political crackdown in Hong Kong and its threats toward Taiwan.
Chinese officials and the state news media noted Kerry’s visit but focused instead on Xi’s meetings. In the joint statement with the United States, the Chinese government pledged to do more on climate, although without detailing specific steps.
The statement said that both countries would develop “long-term strategies” to reach carbon neutrality — the point when a country emits no more carbon than it removes from the atmosphere — before the next international climate conference in November, in Glasgow, Scotland.