The United States and China Will Work Together on Climate Change

Special Envoys for Climate John Kerry (US) and Xie Zhenhua (China)    Photo: Ministry of Ecology and Environment via CNN

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

The United States and China, the world’s biggest carbon polluters, have agreed to cooperate to keep climate change in check. John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate, and the Chinese envoy, Xie Zenhua, made this agreement over the course of two days in Shanghai over the weekend. This accord comes days before President Biden hosts a virtual summit on Earth Day. The joint statement affirmed: “The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”

Why this Matters: China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter, but the United States is in second place. Together, they emit almost half the world’s fossil fuel pollution. Recently, human rights disagreements, trade issues, and China’s territorial claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea have created doubts about whether the two countries could at the same time cooperate on climate action. Especially after a tepid statement from China’s foreign ministry last week dampened expectations. But in a press conference with reporters in Seoul, John Kerry said the language in the statement is “strong,” and the two countries agreed on “critical elements on where we have to go.” He added: “I learned in diplomacy that you don’t put your back on the words, you put [it] on actions. We all need to see what happens.”

Joining Forces

Both countries had plans to drastically reduce emissions even before they chose to work together. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced last year that China would be carbon-neutral by 2060. Meanwhile, in March, China’s Communist Party promised to reduce emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. 

Some environmentalists think that China isn’t acting fast enough, but Le Yucheng, China’s vice minister of foreign affairs, emphasized: “For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered,” Le said during an interview with the Associated Press in Beijing. “Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”

That said, Kerry pushed for China to reduce its coal use, since China is the world’s biggest coal user. Kerry said: “I have never shied away from expressing our views, shared by many, many people, that it is imperative to reduce coal everywhere.” 

Biden has declared that the U.S. will transition to an emissions-free power sector within 14 years and to an emissions-free economy by 2050.

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