Deal on climate and leaders’ summit bode well for China-US ties

November 14, 2021 GMT

It is too soon to say whether the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, will be remembered more for its achievements or its disappointments. That may become clearer next year with governments’ responses to a call at the summit agreement for parties to return with stronger plans to curb carbon emissions and much more financing to help poor nations cope with the costs of damage due to climate change.

One thing certain to be remembered is the defusing of a threat of decoupling on climate between the world’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States. Their joint declaration to cooperate on climate change ” between a developing nation and a developed rival ” not only removed a potentially impassable roadblock to an effective global response but boosted momentum towards greater consensus between rich and poor, the powerful and the weak.


In reality, the ambitious goals in early drafts of the summit declaration were never achievable in less than two weeks in Glasgow. The new deal therefore will not, on its own, meet the threat of global warming. It aims to sustain hopes of achieving the goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, to cap warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It was forged by compromise reflected in the choice of language to water down commitments, such as “phasing down” instead of “phasing out” the use of coal, and the phasing out of “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. The insertion of “inefficient” leaves the door open for self-serving interpretation.

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COP26 deal reached as nations seek to avert climate disaster


China and the US have promised to cooperate on forming regulatory frameworks to reduce emissions, cut methane emissions, protect forests and improve technology and information exchange. This means addressing details such as the sharing of responsibility between rich and poor, strong and weak. The more the two can work together, on this issue at least, the sooner the world can expect to have global standards and rules ” on green finance for example. This has long been the subject of debate on what kind of business qualifies as green, so the green capital market can respond, to the benefit of smaller economies. Currently China, the US and the European Union have their own standards.

Given there is little immediate prospect of progress between Beijing and Washington on intractable issues such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea, the two powers need to focus on areas where they can make progress in bilateral relations. Climate change is low-hanging fruit, along with economic and financial cooperation. Their agreement on climate is a positive sign ahead of the virtual leaders’ summit scheduled for November 15 (Washington time). Hopefully, it signals a building of momentum towards stabilising the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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