China and the United States, the world’s two leading carbon polluters, said on Thursday they planned to formally1 join the Paris climate agreement in 2016.
In a joint statement, the major powers agreed to sign a historic carbon-cutting deal at a UN ceremony in April, and take “respective domestic steps” to approve it as “early as possible this year.”
The countries’ support brings the pact struck last December much closer to coming into force, and marks another case of US-China driving efforts to slash greenhouse gases.
Over 55% of global carbon emissions and 55 countries must formally join for it to apply from 2020. China and the US account for about 40%.
Brian Deese, special adviser on climate change to President Obama said swift approval would keep efforts to curb emissions on track.
“The two largest economies and two largest emitters are saying we are not going to wait, not just sign on the first day, but join much more quickly than has been historical practice,” he told a press briefing.
Coming on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in Washington DC, the announcement also stated a commitment to clinch agreements to phase down super-warming gases and on aviation emissions.
A US-China deal struck in September 2014 is credited with igniting momentum on climate change in the build-up to Paris. China committed to peak its emissions “around 2030”, while the US pledged a 26-28% cut by 2025 compared with 2005 levels.
Deese dismissed concerns that the stalled nature of the US’ flagship climate policy, the clean power plan, would erode trust in its ability to meet its commitments.
And with a slew of climate records broken in recent months, outgoing US climate envoy Todd Stern said speed was now essential. “Paris gives us a chance, it puts us on the right path… There’s no time to lose,” he said.
Liz Gallagher, head of climate diplomacy at UK advocacy group E3G said the relationship was instrumental in securing a strong outcome in Paris.
“It’s fantastic that this relationship is continuing. They won’t be the first off the starting blocks, as Fiji, Palau and the Marshall Islands are off,” she said.
“But China and the US are certainly the biggest and it really gets us over the first hurdle, we now need others to limber up and come on in.”
Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the US Union for Concerned Scientists said:
“Their joint commitment to join the Paris Agreement “as early as possible this year” sends a strong signal to other countries, as does the mention of continuing efforts by both countries to steer investment flows away from carbon-intensive technologies like coal.
“Given China’s current leadership role in the G-20, the call for “strong climate and clean energy outcomes” at the Hangzhou summit in September is also significant, though much work remains to be done to achieve those outcomes.”
Greenpeace China climate policy analyst Li Shuo welcomed the countries’ cooperation on efforts to regulate aviation emissions ahead of a crunch meeting in Montreal in September.
“Challenging questions in the Montreal process, ICAO’s effort to regulate emissions from international aviation, and the G20 can not be unlocked without close cooperation between China and the US. We look forward to see this bilateral relationship contributing to these processes in the same way it helped to achieve the successful outcome of the Paris Agreement.”