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US, China agree on raising climate ambition

19 April 2021 Amena Saiyid

The world's largest GHG emitters agreed to pursue additional steps to reduce GHGs to meet the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but how it is implemented in the coming months will be key.

Following talks in Shanghai on 15 and 16 April, China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry signed a joint agreement to cooperate on tackling the climate crisis.

The diplomats said the countries are "taking enhanced climate actions that raise ambition in the 2020s in the context of the Paris Agreement with the aim of keeping the above temperature limit within reach and cooperating to identify and address related challenges and opportunities."

They also agreed that both countries would develop long-term strategies aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by the time the United Nations' COP26 meeting on climate is held in Glasgow, Scotland, this November.

The announcement came a day after President Joe Biden was able to secure a similar agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Hoshihide Suga on working together to address climate change, amidst bilateral talks on a host of other issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kerry has been meeting with his counterparts in China, India, South Korea, and the UAE ahead of the Leaders Climate Summit that Biden is convening 22 and 23 April, to which representatives of 40 countries, including the world's largest GHG emitters, have been invited. The goal of the summit is to raise climate ambitions and enable the world to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement.

China emitted an estimated 10 billion mt of CO2 emissions in 2019, twice as much as the second-largest emitter, the United States. Japan, ranked as the world's fifth-largest emitter of GHGs, released 1.1 billion mt of CO2 emissions in that year.

'Seriousness and urgency'

Agreeing that the "climate crisis" needs to be addressed with the "seriousness and urgency that it demands," Kerry told journalists in Seoul, "I think this is the first time China has joined in saying it's a crisis, and that it has to be addressed with urgency."

Both countries share the goal of raising climate ambitions and agree on critical elements of what steps need to be taken, he said. These include developing long-term strategies for reaching net-zero emissions as well as maximizing international investment and finance to help developing countries transition from fossil-fuel intensive economies to low-carbon ones, and helping the summit's goal of raising global climate ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and support on the road to COP26.

Cautioning against reading too much into the "piece of paper," Kerry said, "the key are the actions that people take in the next months, and we will work very closely to try to raise ambition across the planet, and to work together to affect this transition to the new energy economy."

Anna Mosby, IHS Markit principal research analyst on the energy and climate scenarios team, agreed with Kerry's characterization that China is showing leadership on climate action.

Long-term strategies?

Mosby was surprised, though, that both countries are planning to develop their long-term strategies on reaching net zero-goals before the COP26 meeting.

"We haven't seen anything out of either country indicating how they will achieve net-zero goals for the economy," she said. China has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, and Biden has pledged to get to the US to a net-zero economy by midcentury.

China in March released its 14th five-year plan for its economy that for the first time has placed a heavy emphasis on addressing the climate threat with an accelerated push towards renewables and nuclear power. It does include a strategy that takes the country through 2035.

In the US, Biden has released a jobs and tax plan that seek a mix of tax incentives and grants to decarbonize the country. He also has released a federal spending request for fiscal year 2022 that includes an unprecedented $14 billion for climate programs. However, the plans and budget request require Congressional approval.

What's more, the US hasn't even yet announced its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) since rejoining the Paris Agreement. An NDC is each country's contribution under the treaty that is updated every five years. The US is overdue to issue a new NDC to show how what GHG cuts it plans to make to meet the treaty. The prior NDC of 26-28% emissions cuts below 2005 levels that President Barack Obama set in 2016 was rendered void after President Donald Trump left the agreement officially in November 2020. An NDC is each country's contribution under the treaty that is updated every five years to show the progress made in meeting GHG cuts.

The US is expected to announce a new and more stringent NDC than the prior one with an interim 2030 goal for taking the country to a net-zero power sector at the Leaders Climate Summit. Most environmental advocates and business groups are clamoring for a 50% reduction by 2030, but analysts like Mosby say that is "an aggressive goal."

They say there may be a risk in setting too aggressive of a GHG target as the world will be waiting to see whether the US sets a credible target, especially as it walked away from the Paris Agreement in the not-so-distant past.

New climate partnership with Japan

In contrast to the cautionary note that Kerry sounded about the US agreement with China, Biden was effusive about creating a new bilateral partnership to address climate change with longstanding ally Japan.

"Japan and the United States are both committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and we know to do that will require setting and meeting our 2030 goals. And we'll work together to advance clean energy technologies and help nations throughout the Indo-Pacific region, especially developing countries, develop renewable energies and decarbonize their economies," Biden said at a joint press conference with Suga on 16 April.

Biden said Suga shares the US' goals of raising global climate ambitions for all signatories to the Paris Treaty, but the joint partnership does not mention it as explicitly as the one with China. Suga also didn't bring it up in his remarks.

Posted 19 April 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst


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