Can the US and China cooperate on climate change ahead of COP26?

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi via video link in Tianjin, China.
US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi via video link in Tianjin, China. Copyright AP/US Department of State
By Marthe de Ferrer with AP
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Relations between the two countries are tense, but there's hope that environmental issues may bring them together.


Chinese and US officials have been talking about reducing pollution by the world's two largest economies - an area of potential cooperation between two governments whose relations are strained on other issues.

US climate envoy John Kerry has already had meetings with counterparts from the Chinese government beginning Wednesday, in an effort to foster positive collaboration ahead of COP26 this November.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been strained by disputes over trade, technology and human rights, but the sides have identified the climate crisis as an area for possible cooperation.

The world’s biggest coal user, China obtains roughly 60 per cent of its power from coal and is the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gases. On a per capita basis, however, the US far exceeds China both in terms of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

China plans to taper its use of fossil fuel, but at the same time the country is still planning to build more coal-fired power plants.

Kerry made a stop in Japan on Tuesday to discuss climate issues with Japanese officials before heading to China.

Will either country's climate goals be enough?

Beijing has pointed to historical US emissions as a reason to resist action while making advances in solar power and other renewable energy sources. 

China has set a target of generating 20 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption from renewables by 2025, becoming carbon-neutral by 2060 and reducing total emissions starting from 2030.

President Joe Biden has announced a goal to cut up to 52 per cent of US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — double the target set by President Barack Obama in the 2015 Paris climate accord. The 2030 goal vaults the US into the top tier of countries on climate ambition.

Kerry has called for stronger efforts to curb rising temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. He urged China to join the US in urgently cutting carbon emissions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, however, warned Kerry that deteriorating relations between the two countries could undermine cooperation between the two on climate change.

Global decarbonising efforts will come under the spotlight at COP26, the UN conference to be held in Glasgow, Scotland later this year.

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