In a significant diplomatic move, the United States and China have pledged their support for a new global renewables target and announced collaborative efforts to address methane and plastic pollution. The joint statement emerged after climate envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua convened in Sunnylands, California from November 4-7, aiming to establish common ground ahead of the upcoming COP28 talks in Dubai.
While acknowledging persistent differences on issues such as the phasing out of fossil fuels, both nations agreed to revive a bilateral climate working group. This working group will facilitate discussions on areas of cooperation between the U.S. and China. The joint statement emphasized the importance of aligning the two major greenhouse gas emitters to make meaningful global progress on climate action.
Li Shuo, the incoming director of the China Climate Hub at the Asia Society, described the Sunnylands statement as a timely effort to stabilize the political climate between the U.S. and China ahead of the COP28 talks. The re-launch of the working group symbolizes the normalization of the climate relationship between the two nations, following a hiatus triggered by a visit to Taiwan by former House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2022.
The working group will focus on key areas of cooperation, including methane reduction, efficiency enhancement, and the promotion of the circular economy. Additionally, it will facilitate the exchange of information on policies and technologies to reduce emissions. Both countries pledged to collaborate on efforts to curb forest loss and plastic pollution.
China's ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions will be a focal point at the COP28 talks, given the country's approval of new coal-fired power plants to ensure energy security. The U.S. and China expressed support for the G20 leaders' declaration to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and committed to accelerating the substitution for coal, oil, and gas generation.
While the joint statement anticipates “meaningful” emissions reductions from the power sector this decade, it falls short of explicitly calling for the phasing out of fossil fuels—a goal labeled as “unrealistic” by China. Both nations also agreed to include methane in their 2035 climate goals, marking a significant commitment by China, and pledged to advance “at least five” large-scale cooperation projects in carbon capture, utilization, and storage by the end of the decade.
As preparations intensify for COP28, attention remains on addressing challenges related to fossil fuels. Li Shuo emphasized the need for China to reconsider approving new coal power projects as a step towards further ambition in combating climate change.