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A Critical Decade for Climate

Nov 18, 2021
  • Tang Xinhua

    Associate Researcher, Tsinghua University’s Institute of International Relations

On Nov. 11, as COP26 was in progress, China and the United States issued the China-U.S. Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, which injected political confidence into the COP26 climate governance negotiations and provided strong support for maintaining and promoting the full implementation of the Paris agreement.

The declaration has added momentum to the accelerated global low-carbon transition and brought hope for a global response to the climate crisis, an epochal issue facing humanity. As the climate crisis approaches the tipping point, the window of time left for human society is rapidly shrinking. The next 10 years will determine the survival, security and development of humanity in the 21st century. Therefore, the publication of the declaration for this critical decade carries many important implications. 

A critical decade 

“State of Climate in 2021: Extreme events and major impacts,” a newly released report by the World Meteorological Organization, shows that the global mean temperature for 2021 was about 1.09°C above the 1850-1900 average. Record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated accumulated heat have propelled the planet into uncharted territory. Extreme events are the new norm. From the ocean depths to mountaintops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated.

The declaration mentions that China and the United States recognize the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis and are committed to tackling it through their respective accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s to avoid catastrophic impacts. 

• A critical decade for implementing the Paris agreement: The only hope to tackle the climate crisis together on a global scale is the full and effective implementation of the Paris agreement. Over the past few years, the basic principles and target framework of the agreement have been seriously threatened by unilateralism, protectionism and other impacts, so maintaining and implementing it fully, completely and accurately is a key task for the next decade.

The declaration emphasizes that both sides are committed to tackling the climate crisis by strengthening implementation of the Paris agreement by reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in light of different national circumstances. This strongly safeguards the cornerstone of the global climate governance framework.

In addition, on the temperature control target, the debate between 1.5 C and 2 C is increasing, which interferes with the negotiation process of COP26. The declaration makes an important acknowledgement of this, mentioning that the Paris agreement’s aim was to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2 C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 C, and that the parties are committed to pursuing such efforts, including ambitious action during this critical decade to keep the target temperature limit within reach.

A precise and clear temperature control target is the basis for achieving consensus on global action and the basic guideline for the parties to formulate their nationally determined contributions. In addition, in terms of climate finance pledge delivery, the United States pledged to mobilize jointly $100 billion a year by 2020, and through 2025, to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency in implementation.

The finance pledge delivery will strongly help developing countries enhance their capacity to address climate change. To complete the negotiations on the remaining issues of the Paris agreement, both countries will work cooperatively to complete at COP26 the implementing arrangements (“rulebook”) for Articles 6 and 13 of the Paris agreement, as well as common time frames for NDCs. 

• A critical decade for accelerating progress toward a net-zero world: The most effective path to address climate change is to accelerate a green and low-carbon transition, minimize fossil energy consumption, rely more on clean energy and make a transition to a net-zero economic development model. This transition requires the full application of science and technology innovation as the driving force. Although China and the United States compete in science and technology, there is great room for cooperation in green innovation. The declaration mentions that China and the U.S. will work together to maximize the societal benefits of the clean energy transition; implement policies that support the effective integration of high shares of low-cost intermittent renewable energy; make transmission policies that encourage efficient balancing of electricity supply and demand across broad geographies; and eliminate support for unabated international thermal coal power generation. Green innovation cooperation between China and the U.S. will accelerate the green and low-carbon economic transformation of both countries and drive the global net-zero economic transformation. 

• A key decade for a stable and prosperous China-U.S. relationship: Since the Trump administration, the U.S. government has carried out a trade war, a technology war and an ideological confrontation with China, all of which have brought many crises and uncertainties to the China-U.S. relationship. As one of the few areas of cooperation between the two countries, China-U.S. climate cooperation was disrupted, which exacerbated the crisis of confidence in the relationship. Only since April 17 — when China and the U.S. agreed to the China-U.S. Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis — has China-U.S. climate cooperation gradually developed. The declaration brings new hope for the resumption and upgrading of China-U.S. climate cooperation and enables the two countries to begin to use climate cooperation as a platform to rebuild political trust.

It is of particular note that the two countries intend to establish a working group on enhancing climate action in the 2020s, which will meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete action in this decade. This mechanism will enhance normal political interaction and build mutual trust between the two countries. It will serve as a new bridge to stabilize China-U.S. relations in the next critical decade and play an irreplaceable strategic role in promoting a new type of major power relationship and maintaining international security and development.

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