Xi tells Biden ‘planet Earth is big enough’ for US and China | ET REALITY


The United States and China, the world’s two biggest climate polluters, agreed to jointly address global warming by increasing wind, solar and other renewable energy with the goal of displacing fossil fuels.

The announcement comes as President Biden prepares to meet with President Xi Jinping of China on Wednesday for their first face-to-face conversation in a year. The climate deal could emerge as a bright spot in talks that are likely to focus on sensitive issues such as Taiwan, the war in Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas.

Cooperation statements released separately by the United States and China on Tuesday do not include a promise by China to phase out its intensive use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, or to stop issuing permits and building new coal plants. That has been a sticking point for the United States in months of discussions with Beijing over climate change.

But both countries agreed to “continue efforts to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030.” That growth should reach levels high enough “to accelerate the substitution of coal, oil and gas generation,” the agreement says. Both countries anticipate a “significant and absolute reduction in energy sector emissions” this decade, he says. This appears to be the first time China has agreed to specific emissions targets in any part of its economy.

The agreement comes two weeks before representatives from nearly 200 countries converge on Dubai as part of the United Nations climate talks known as COP28. The United States and China have a huge role to play there as nations debate whether to phase out fossil fuels.

“This sets the stage for negotiations in Dubai,” said David Sandalow, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations who is now a fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “It sends a strong signal to other countries that this language works and, more generally, that differences can be overcome.”

The agreement does not specify how China will eliminate fossil fuels from its power grid. While the United States has displaced some of its fossil fuels by increasing solar and wind power, China has been generating more renewable energy than any other country, but at the same time it has also been building new coal-fired power plants.

Still, many of those Chinese coal-fired plants are expected to operate at less than full capacity, and the International Energy Agency predicted last month that China’s coal use will decline in the coming years, and possibly as soon as the next year.

A CarbonBrief analysis, A UK-based energy publication found that China’s emissions are likely to fall next year, having recovered from a decline due to coronavirus restrictions. This is partly due to “record low-carbon electricity installations” which, according to the analysis, could be enough to meet growing electricity demand.

Sandalow said displacing fossil fuels as outlined in the U.S.-China deal would allow the countries to share knowledge as they both work to add more renewable energy to their power grids and invest in energy storage and better transmission.

“This is the nature of diplomatic statements, they are not binding legal documents but statements of intent,” Sandalow said. But he added: “In my experience, neither the American government nor the Chinese government makes high-profile statements like this unless there are serious plans to implement the agreement.”

Earlier this month, John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, met with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, at the Sunnylands estate in California to lay the groundwork for the deal announced Tuesday night.

“The United States and China recognize that the climate crisis has increasingly affected countries around the world,” said the Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Tackle the Climate Crisis says.

“Both countries emphasize the importance of COP 28 to respond meaningfully to the climate crisis during this critical decade and beyond” and commit in the declaration “to rise to one of the greatest challenges of our time for the present and future generations of humanity.”

As part of the deal, China agreed to set reduction targets for all greenhouse gas emissions. This is significant because the current Chinese climate goal addresses only carbon dioxide, leaving out methane, nitrous oxide and other gases that act as a blanket around the planet.

Methane arises from oil and gas operations, as well as coal mining, and can be 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term. Greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide account for a fifth of China’s emissions. Methane makes up about half of that amount, with other gases such as hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigeration and nitrous oxide accounting for the rest.

The Chinese government last week released a long-awaited plan to tackle methane, but analysts dismissed it as ineffective because it lacked emissions reduction targets.

The Sunnylands agreement also lacks targets, but says the two countries will work together to set them.

China has refused to join the Global Methane Commitment, an agreement between more than 150 nations, led by the United States and Europe, that promises to collectively reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

The United States and China also agreed that in the next set of climate commitments, which nations are supposed to present in 2025, China will set emissions reduction targets across its economy. Its current pledge calls for carbon dioxide emissions to peak before 2030, but does not specify how high they could go before the curve begins to bend or specify by how much emissions could be reduced.

President Xi has also promised that China will be carbon neutral by 2060, meaning it will not produce more carbon emissions than it can offset.

Manish Bapna, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, praised the U.S.-China deal as “a foundation of ambition” ahead of the U.N. climate summit in Dubai.

“This sends a powerful message of cooperation in the face of the existential challenge of our time,” Bapna said. “The important thing now is that both countries fulfill their promise today.”

The agreement is the product of months of negotiations between Kerry, 79, and Xie, 73, friends and climate interlocutors for more than 25 years. Both came out of retirement to become their countries’ climate envoys and have advocated for climate change diplomacy within their governments. Xie, who suffered a stroke last year, is expected to retire after the UN summit in Dubai.

Climate negotiations between John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua collapsed during their meeting last July in Beijing.Credit…Valerie Volcovici/Reuters

Their negotiations stalled in 2022 after Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House of Representatives, traveled to Taiwan, a move Beijing considered provocative. Then, earlier this year, a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Chinese spy balloon floating over the continental United States.

In July, amid the Biden administration’s efforts to improve ties, Kerry traveled to Beijing.

That effort did not end in success. Xi took the opportunity of Kerry’s visit to deliver a speech in which he declared that China would never be “influenced by others” in its climate goals.

Still, Kerry said optimistically at the time that “we set the stage” for a deal.

When it comes to climate change, no relationship is as important as the one between the United States and China.

The United States, the largest climate polluter in history, and China, the largest current polluter, together account for 38 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

That means the two countries’ willingness to urgently reduce emissions will essentially determine whether the nations can limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

That is the threshold beyond which scientists say increasingly severe wildfires, floods, heat and drought will exceed humanity’s ability to adapt. The planet has already warmed 1.2 degrees.

But neither the United States nor China will act quickly unless the other does. Both nations are taking steps to address emissions, but hardliners in each country argue the other is not doing enough, and each country has called the other’s climate promises insincere.

While the United States has reduced its emissions, Chinese officials have said that the American goal of reducing its pollution by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of this decade is inadequate, and some officials have questioned whether the United States United States will even be able to fulfill it.

China’s leaders are also acutely aware of the partisan divide in the United States over climate change and have little confidence that a future administration will deliver on promises made by Biden. Most Republican presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge established science on climate change, and front-runner Donald Trump has vowed to halt climate action and encourage more oil drilling, fracking and coal mining.

American lawmakers, on the other hand, point out that China’s emissions continue to grow and that the country has so far only promised to peak sometime before 2030 and then maintain a plateau before falling. This is unacceptable to most members of Congress, who believe that China, the world’s second-largest economy, should advance at a pace similar to that of the United States.

The Chinese government issued a plan on Nov. 10 to pay large annual bonuses to power companies to keep coal-fired capacity available for surges in power demand, even if it is rarely used. Xi has long emphasized energy security and self-reliance.

That emphasis increased after a heat wave in 2021 coincided with the closure of many coal-fired power plants. Blackouts occurred in many cities, office workers were forced to flee down long flights of stairs, and a chemical factory exploded, injuring dozens of workers.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.

A correction was made in

November 15, 2023


Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the potency of methane compared to carbon dioxide. Methane can be 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term, not 80 percent more powerful.

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