Monday, 27 November 2023 15:08

U.S.-China Climate Agreement: A Leap Forward in Global Climate Cooperation

UN Secretary-General António Guterres looks across the ice sheet at Frei Antarctica base. Credit: UN Photo/Mark

CAIRO, Nov 27 (IPS) — The recent U.S.-China summit on November 15 in San Francisco, against a backdrop of low expectations, surprisingly made significant strides with the unveiling of the “Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis.” This agreement, the result of two years of negotiations between climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, represents a considerable advancement following the 2021 joint declaration at the Glasgow Climate Summit.

The declaration has a dual focus: it establishes a working group to address critical climate issues through U.S.-China collaboration, and it sets forth commitments to amplify international efforts, particularly under the Paris Agreement. Importantly, this collaborative endeavor aims to reactivate a working group that was stalled in 2021 due to geopolitical disputes, demonstrating a renewed commitment to overcoming hurdles in climate cooperation.

The statement covers practical areas of collaboration, ranging from methane reduction to large-scale carbon capture projects. It also signals a revival of the U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Forum and endorses subnational cooperation, spotlighting successful initiatives between California and China.

A key aspect of the Sunnylands Statement is its reference to the upcoming 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, with a promise of a jointly hosted summit on methane and non-CO2 gases. It introduces a commitment to economy-wide targets on all greenhouse gases by 2035, a significant step for China, and addresses the contentious issue of climate finance, a topic that has ignited heated debates in previous COP meetings. It was welcomed by Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber,
COP28 President-Designate who noted that the "Global Stocktake evidences that there is much to be done to get back on track and keep 1.5C within reach. It will require all parties to unite, act, and deliver a high-ambition GST decision at COP28."

John Englander, a US expert in climate change, global warming, and rising sea levels, told IPS that China’s new commitment to GHG reduction is significant. It holds importance not only in potentially reducing their emissions but also in encouraging others to do the same. However, he emphasized that this will not “solve climate change.”

Englander added that despite all our efforts, we are losing ground each year.

"While being hopeful and innovative is great, we also need to be realistic. With the excess heat already stored in the ocean, Greenland and Antarctica will almost certainly continue their quickening melt rate, raising global sea levels."

He stressed the need for planning and implementing more adaptation, even with all the glimmers of hope.

He stated that it was a positive step. If all the CO2 emitters adopted tighter standards, it would help slow the rate of warming a little bit. It’s a good start, but even with all the current efforts, we are losing ground. Sea levels will rise for centuries in any scenario. We need to slow the warming as much as possible, but we also need to realize that sea level is going to rise significantly.

As the world prepares for COP28 in Dubai, António Guterres, during a visit late last week to Antarctica, reflected on the impact of global warming on Antartica and appealed world leaders to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

He also urged them to protect people from climate chaos and end the fossil fuel age, saying, “We must not let all hopes for a sustainable planet melt away."

Khaled Suliman, an expert in climate change from Iraq, has pointed out that China, during the inception of the Industrial Revolution, was not among the industrial nations primarily accountable for carbon emissions. As such, China leans on its historical lack of responsibility and argues that it shouldn’t be obligated to undertake climate mitigation efforts like other countries, such as Britain, which is recognized as the pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, the technological revolution, and carbon emissions. Suliman emphasized that China’s heavy reliance on oil is a crucial factor. Any disruption in its oil dependence could lead to an economic downturn. Currently, China is in urgent need to persist with its economic development to ascend as the world’s leading industrial nation.

From the onset of the Industrial Revolution until now, British emissions have totaled 78 billion tons. In contrast, Chinese emissions from 2010 to 2021 have surpassed 150 billion tons of carbon, according to Suliman. This situation poses a significant challenge. Although it’s generally accepted that China isn’t historically responsible, the vast amount of carbon emissions it has produced in recent years is difficult to manage. This predicament could potentially hinder negotiations between China and major industrial nations, particularly the United States, which is the second-largest carbon emitter after China.

Any commitment from China to reduce carbon emissions inherently implies a decrease in the consumption of fossil fuels. Consequently, this commitment is likely to impact other countries that export oil to China. Moreover, it could also affect Chinese companies operating in the oil sector in Africa and the Middle East, especially as these companies are expanding globally.

"This agreement could therefore influence the oil and gas industries in these countries and their respective companies. Additionally, it could also impact the Chinese industry known for supplying globally competitive goods due to their low prices, a feat achieved largely due to fossil fuels and oil and gas," Suliman told IPS.

Given the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, any agreement between developed and emerging industrial countries, as Suliman stated, could initially have a negative impact on the world economy.

"These agreements, however, are expected to produce positive outcomes and significant benefits in the future, particularly if there is a shift toward renewable energy and reducing emissions from fossil fuels. Such measures would benefit biodiversity, natural ecosystem conservation, smart agriculture, and nature-based solutions. All of these factors are expected to benefit economies, communities, food sources, and global food security," Suliman said.

He warned that if the dependence on fossil fuels continues, by the end of the century, we could see a temperature rise exceeding 4 degrees Celsius compared to pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Consequently, many regions worldwide, including the Middle East, could become uninhabitable.