Since COP15 in Copenhagen, the gradual movement away from a hard line between developed and developing country obligations has been eased by the two countries’ improving bilateral working relationship. In November, 2014 – just a month before COP20, a pivotal point in the Durban Mandate’s search for a new climate change agreement that would bind all UNFCCC parties – President Obama and President Xi Jinping announced at the close of the Pacific Rim conference in Beijing new U.S. targets for carbon emissions reductions and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030. As one senior Obama administration official put it, “the United States and China have often been seen as antagonists. We hope that this announcement can usher in a new day in which China and the U.S. can act much more as partners.” Jairam Ramesh, a member of the Indian Parliament and climate negotiator, was quoted at the time observing that “in one move, Obama and Xi broke the logjam of climate politics. Until now, China has insisted that the U.S. and the EU are largely responsible for climate change. But this raises the bar for other nations.” Of note is China’s influence on other advanced developing countries, like Brazil, South Korea, India, Mexico, and Indonesia.
In last Thursday’s U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change, the two countries took the lead again. Affirming that “over the past three years, climate change has become a pillar of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship,” Presidents Obama and Xi announced “another significant step in their joint climate efforts” – signing the Paris Agreement. Specifically, the two presidents stated that “the United States and China will sign the Paris Agreement on April 22nd and take their respective domestic steps in order to join the Agreement as early as possible this year.” In addition, they “encouraged” other UNFCCC Parties to do the same, to bring the Paris Agreement into force as soon as possible.
In addition, both countries reaffirmed their bilateral work with each other, as well as with other UNFCCC Parties, focusing on the following specific actions:
- an HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol;
- a global market-based measure for reducing international aviation’s GHG emissions at the International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly;
- implementation of Mission Innovation, launched in Paris;
- progress on the Clean Energy Ministerial;
- strong climate outcomes at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou this year;
- deeper bilateral cooperation through the US-China Climate Change Working Group and US-China Clean Energy Research Center.