CLIMATE CABLE | China, the world’s biggest climate polluter, agreed in a deal with the United States to reduce planet-warming emissions from the energy sector this decade and pledged for the first time to curb all greenhouse gases.
He statement announcing the agreement issued by Special climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua arrive just before nations gather for the United Nations climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which begin Nov. 30 . It provides momentum for those negotiations, which hope to bring the world closer to the Paris climate agreement’s goals are to keep temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era.
China made concessions in the deal aimed at mitigating climate change despite broader geopolitical and economic tensions between the two nations, according to long-time observers of the relationship. This has inspired hopes that the pact can endure: controlling rising temperatures is impossible without more aggressive action by both nations, which together account for almost two-fifths of the gases warming the planet.
“The world’s two largest emitters were able to overcome significant differences and work together in the fight against climate change. That sends a clear signal to the rest of the world,” said David Sandalow, a former climate negotiator and Energy Department official in the Clinton and Obama administrations who now works at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
China and the United States will begin more substantive dialogue, including restarting workshops on energy policy, strategies, technologies and broader climate actions. Beijing suspended such exchanges when it ended diplomatic relations with Washington after then-House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan in August 2022.
The relationship between the two nations remains “challenging,” said Li Shuo, political adviser at Greenpeace Asia. The joint statement amounts to “setting the floor” rather than “setting the tone,” but he said the pact would help “stabilize policy” for the upcoming climate talks, known as COP 28.
The U.N. climate change secretariat said Tuesday that nations are still far from their goals. Emissions would still increase 9 percent this decade based on current climate plans offered under the Paris Agreement, according to the report. Scientists have said emissions must fall by 43 percent compared to 2019 levels this decade to keep the Paris Agreement’s ambitious goal of 1.5 C in play.
China’s agreement to include all greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide in its 2035 climate action plan would help close that gap. The country’s previous plan fought only carbon dioxide, but it has now committed to also addressing methane, nitrous oxide and other non-CO2 gases, according to the joint statement.
This would be important to cool the planet. China’s non-CO2 gases alone account for what would be the world’s third-largest emissions, said Nathan Hultman, a former State Department climate official who is now director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland.
“This is, as we all know, vitally important,” he said.
Hultman added that the promise to set minimum standards on hydrofluorocarbons, a heat-trapping gas used as a refrigerant in appliances, is important. China is the main country that manufactures products that use it for sale in the developing world, where purchases of air conditioners are expected to increase.
China also pledged for the first time to realize a “significant and absolute reduction in emissions from the energy sector” in the joint statement, a step beyond previous promises to peak carbon emissions this decade. The implication of the language is that China will use less coal-fired power, which it had been building at a rapid pace, as it deploys more renewable energy.
“What this says is, okay, we may be adding more coal-fired capacity, but emissions reductions are going to decline in the power sector this decade. That’s very important,” Sandalow said.
The United States and China also agreed to other measures, including the goal set by the International Energy Agency, G-20 countries and organizers of this year’s climate talks of tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030. The language of the agreement said that such deployment would “accelerate the substitution by coal, oil and gas generation.”
They also agreed to broader partnerships. The nations “aim to advance” at least five “collaborative” carbon capture, utilization and storage projects, a technology that traps emissions from fossil fuels to store them underground or in other products. And they committed to holding a high-level subnational climate event in the first half of 2024.
While much of the initial reaction to the agreement is cautiously positive, experts noted that there were some notable goals and objectives that were not in the agreement.
The agreement did not include many firm goals, David Waskow, international climate director at the World Resources Institute, said in a statement. He said that while underscoring calls to triple renewable energy globally this decade was “helpful”, stronger statements to ditch fossil fuels would have been better.
“It is disappointing that the two nations have said nothing about the need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels this decade, which will be a central theme at the COP 28 summit,” he said.
Greenpeace Asia’s Shuo warned there was still a lot of work ahead. In the past, China has resisted language in U.N. talks to phase out coal-fired power, a major driver of climate change.
“China also needs to consider what greater ambitions can be brought to the COP,” he said in an email. “Stopping approval of new coal power projects is a good next step.”
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.