‘Existential crisis’: United States and China stun COP26 with joint climate change pact

Glasgow: China and the United States have made a shock joint statement at the Glasgow climate talks, declaring climate change to be an existential crisis demanding co-operation between the superpowers.

Addressing a press conference at the COP26 summit, Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua unveiled a joint-declaration designed to “enhance climate action in the 2020s” and said the two nations were determined to tackle global warming with “concrete and pragmatic” co-operation.

“Co-operation is the only choice for both China and the United States,” Xie told reporters via a translator.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua speaks during a joint China and US statement on a declaration enhancing climate action in the 2020’s on day eleven of the COP26 climate change conference.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua speaks during a joint China and US statement on a declaration enhancing climate action in the 2020’s on day eleven of the COP26 climate change conference.Credit:Getty

“By working together, our two countries can achieve many important things that are beneficial not only to our two countries, but to the world as a whole. As two major powers in the world, China and the US shoulders special international responsibilities and obligations.

“We need to think big and feel responsible. We need to work… hard to promote world peace and development. We need to actively address climate change through cooperation, bringing benefits to both our two peoples and peoples around the world.”

The announcement is a huge boost to the United Nations talks and is a sharp contrast to US President Joe Biden’s blunt criticism of China over climate change only last week.

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will hold a virtual summit before the end of the year.

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will hold a virtual summit before the end of the year.Credit:AFR

Xie said Beijing and Washington would work together on emissions reductions, and share technology and expertise on clean energy, decarbonisation and electrification to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The climate envoy described climate change as an “existential crisis” and said agreement between the US and China on how to deal with global warming far outweighed their differences on the issue.

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Biden’s own climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, framed the surprise agreement as a major milestone which would give the COP26 talks much-needed momentum.

“The two largest economies in the world have agreed to work together to raise climate ambition in this decisive decade,” Kerry told reporters in Glasgow.

John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate speaks immediately after a press conference given by China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua.

John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate speaks immediately after a press conference given by China’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua.Credit:AP

“Our teams have worked together for months, and we have worked in good faith. We have found common ground.”

Kerry described the joint-declaration was a “roadmap for our present and future collaboration” on climate change.

“It declares specifically and identifies the need to accelerate the transition to a global net-zero economy,” Kerry said.

“Secondly, it commits to a series of important actions, not out in the long-term but now, in this decade where it’s needed.”

Releasing the joint declaration, Xie said the statement was the result of the “spirit and instructions of our two presidents” and the product 30 virtual meetings between teams of Chinese and American officials, as well as meetings in Shanghai, London and Washington, before finally reaching an agreement in Glasgow on Wednesday afternoon local-time.

“To ensure a successful COP26 and to facilitate an outcome that is both ambitious and balanced, we will stick to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and take into consideration the respective national circumstances,” he said.

“We have reached a consensus regarding either the Paris framework and also the Paris temperature control goals as well as climate finance. We are committed to work jointly and with other parties, facilitating the finalisation of Paris Agreement rulebook in order to build global carbon markets also and also enhance transparency.”

He added that China and America had reached consensus over 2030 targets, Paris climate control goals and the contentious area of finance for developing nations.

He noted that the US states had developed a plan to reduce methane emissions and said the China will follow suit. “We also encourage joint research in this regard.”

“Climate change is a common challenge faced by humanity. It bears on the wellbeing of future generations.

“Climate change is becoming increasingly urgent and severe.”

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Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.Connect via email.

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