The United States and China have agreed to resume formal climate change discussions, marking a significant breakthrough after a hiatus of over a year. This development is expected to inject fresh momentum into international climate negotiations set to take place in Dubai later this month. In addition to restarting talks, the two countries have committed to increased collaboration in curbing methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, and accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The joint statement announcing these initiatives follows a series of meetings between U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, held last week in Sunnylands, California.
The decision to revive climate talks comes ahead of a meeting scheduled between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in which both sides will seek to reset their strained relationship. Tensions have escalated due to disputes over technology competition, territorial claims, including Taiwan, and assertive Chinese military activities in the South China Sea. Over the past year, Kerry has made multiple efforts to reestablish the bilateral working group that was suspended by Beijing in August last year during a period of heightened tensions around Taiwan. During Kerry’s visit to Beijing in July this year, President Xi did not meet with him, delivering a speech instead, emphasizing China’s autonomy in determining its pace for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The strained relations between the United States and China have raised concerns among leaders of prominent climate institutions. There are fears that this could hinder progress at the upcoming COP28 Summit, the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference in Dubai. These leaders have been urging the two superpowers to reach an agreement, recognizing that U.S.-China collaboration is vital for revitalizing global efforts to mitigate rising temperatures. Scientists have attributed such temperature increases to more frequent and intense natural disasters like fires, floods, and storms.
Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, emphasized the significance of a potential U.S.-China agreement at COP28, stating that it would greatly enhance the fight against climate change. Birol acknowledged the complexity of reaching such an agreement but stressed that achieving climate targets is highly unlikely without the cooperation of both nations.
China is currently the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, releasing approximately 12.7 billion metric tons annually, more than double the emissions of the United States. However, due to America’s earlier industrialization, it holds a greater overall responsibility for global carbon emissions, which persist in the atmosphere for extended periods. Furthermore, analysts have found that Americans generate more emissions per capita compared to their Chinese counterparts.