US-China agreement on climate cooperation stops short of ending coal

Posted on : 2023-11-16 16:56 KST Modified on : 2023-11-16 16:56 KST
The newly reached agreement between Beijing and Washington is expected to have a positive bearing on negotiations at the upcoming UN climate conference
President Xi Jinping of China (left) and US President Joe Biden shake hands. (PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Yonhap)
President Xi Jinping of China (left) and US President Joe Biden shake hands. (PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Yonhap)

The US and China reached an agreement Wednesday to work together on tripling global renewable energy production capabilities by 2030 as part of a joint response to climate change.

The agreement was announced ahead of the first summit in a year between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which took place that day in San Francisco.

According to the New York Times, the US State Department and Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced their “Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis” that day.

The statement summarized the results of talks in Beijing on July 16–19 and in Sunnylands, California, on Nov. 4–7 between John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the respective special climate envoys for the US and China.

“The United States and China recognize that the climate crisis has increasingly affected countries around the world,” the statement read.

It added that the two sides “support the G20 Leaders Declaration to pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030 [. . .] so as to accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation.”

The agreement did not include measures such as a gradual phasing out of coal use in China or a halt to the construction of new coal-based power plants. The newspaper noted that the issue of ending the use of coal has been one of the biggest sticking points in past discussions between the two sides.

The agreement by Washington and Beijing comes two weeks ahead of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai on Nov. 30 and is expected to have a positive bearing on the negotiation prospects there.

The two sides agreed to work actively toward the conference’s success.

“Both countries stress the importance of COP 28 in responding meaningfully to the climate crisis during this critical decade and beyond,” the statement said.

As part of these efforts, China reached an agreement with the US to set targets for the reductions of all greenhouse gases. Currently, China has stated targets only for carbon dioxide reductions, without presenting concrete reduction goals for other gases such as methane.

Additionally, the two countries agreed to “operationalize the Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s,” which is to be jointly presided over by their respective special envoys with the relevant government agencies on both sides taking part.

The working group is to focus on cooperation areas finalized in past joint statements and declarations by the two sides, including energy transition, methane, circular economy, resource efficiency, low-carbon practices, and deforestation.

The working group will additionally be in charge of information exchanges on policies, measures, and technologies related to greenhouse gas emission controls and reductions.

By Shin Gi-sub, senior staff writer

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