China-US Pact Renews Hope on Climate

The joint declaration released by China and the U.S. during COP26 is a shot in the arm for the global efforts on climate change. It also shows that two countries can work together despite their differences.

On the early morning of Nov. 9, 2016, I was woken up by a string of news alerts on my phone: Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. I rushed to the conference site of COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco, where I was reporting on the ongoing UN climate meeting.

Taken by surprise, climate groups and NGOs threw up press conferences that day, knowing that the newly elected president is a climate change denier. They called on people to maintain the efforts in fighting climate change despite the election outcome.

What happened in the following years have been well documented: Trump denied climate change time and again and – worst of all – pulled out of the landmark T altogether in 2017. That was seen by many as a severe blow to the global efforts on climate change.

Five years after Marrakech, during the closing days of the COP26 in Glasgow, a joint declaration between China and the U.S. again took many by surprise – this one a pleasant one. The two countries released the “China-U.S. Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s,” pledging to join hands to tackle climate change over this decade.

Firefighters battle a wildfire in Keratea, southeast of Athens, Greece, on Aug. 16, 2021. (Photo/Xinhua)

Coming from the world’s two largest economic powers and also the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, the declaration injects immense confidence to the global fight against climate change.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres posted on Twitter following the announcement, “Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

The declaration is indeed a much-needed major step on the right path. In 2020, the global temperature rose at least 1.2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times, and scientists have warned that the world would see more extreme weathers that bring tremendous damage to humanity if no concrete action is taken. It is high time that countries shouldered their due responsibility and joined hands to fight against this global crisis.

China has been playing its part on climate change all along. In 2015, China set a national objective to peak carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible and by 2030 at the latest. By the end of 2019, China had already delivered on its 2020 climate action target ahead of schedule. In 2020, China announced a new set of national goals, including peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.

China has also been contributing to global efforts against the climate crisis. For instance, the country has provided assistance and support to other developing countries to address climate change. Since 2011, China has allocated about 1.2 billion yuan for South-South climate cooperation and trained about 2,000 officials and professionals in the field of climate change for nearly 120 developing countries.

A staff member charges an electric bus at a charging station in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, Nov. 21, 2019. (Photo/Xinhua)

Yet China alone cannot solve what many call the biggest threat to humanity. Hence the renewed cooperation with the U.S. is important.

In the joint declaration, the two sides mapped out a number of areas for cooperation in the next 10 years, including reducing greenhouse gases, tackling deforestation, clean energy transition, etc. They also agreed to establish a working group on climate action, which will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and effectively institutionalize the China-U.S. cooperation mechanism on climate change. These are bound to help the two countries achieve their individual targets as well as contribute to the global efforts on the climate crisis.

What went behind and beyond the joint pact is worth celebrating too. The fact that the declaration can be agreed to amid rising tensions between the two countries proves that China and the U.S. can set aside their differences and work on things that matter to them. There is room for talks and negotiations if they have the will and wisdom.

Moreover, as the world continues to be ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, this also points to a commonplace but often neglected truth: Science, reason and cooperation shall and should prevail over denial, skepticism, and blame game when we face crises that threaten humanity.