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COP26: US and China announce joint declaration to hit Paris Agreement climate goals

The Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action comes as a surprise at the UN climate summit.

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The US and China made the joint announcement at COP26 in Glasgow.
Hogogo/Getty

This story is part of CNET Zero, a series that chronicles the impact of climate change and explores what's being done about the problem.

In a surprise announcement at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Wednesday, the US and China came together to say they've reached an agreement on climate goals. The China-US Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s will see the pair work together to achieve the targets set by the Paris Agreement.

China's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said both sides recognize there's a gap between today's climate action and the goals laid out in 2015's Paris Agreement. "When it comes to climate change, there is more agreement between China and the US than divergence," he said at a press conference in Glasgow.

The Paris Agreement, which was created at COP21 six years ago, is one of the most important climate treaties of our time, with signatories promising to limit global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. Whether countries are meeting their commitments under the agreement and whether it's likely to be a success have been a major topic of discussion at COP26. Wednesday's announcement is a key moment in its implementation, as the Paris Agreement was only possible in the first place due to the cooperation of China and the US.

"Now the two largest economies in the world have decided to work together to raise climate ambition in this decade," said US Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, also at a press conference at COP26.

Kerry said that his team has met with Chinese counterparts more than 30 times in recent months and that US President Joe Biden had a conversation with China's president, Xi Jinping, a number of weeks ago, during which both leaders expressed their hopes that they could collaborate on fighting the climate crisis, in spite of their other differences.

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, in a tweet called the China-US agreement "an important step in the right direction."

The two countries have reached agreement on a number of matters, including nationally determined contributions,  or NDCs, under the Paris framework, as well as temperature goals and financing. Together they will form a working group to meet regularly and discuss climate actions. Under the declaration they will address clean energy, coal, methane and deforestation.

The announcement comes just days after former US President Barack Obama criticized China, along with Russia, for its "dangerous absence of urgency" at COP26. On a less optimistic note, the two countries, along with Germany, on Wednesday refused to ban gas-powered cars by 2035. China also refused to join the methane pledge led by the US and the EU earlier this week, although China has agreed separately to work with the US on lowering methane emissions.