Can US, China Climate Talks Spur Progress at COP28?

With global consensus difficult to find, some experts say smaller multilateral deals between major greenhouse gas polluters are needed to quickly cut emissions.

New climate talks between the United States and China could set an encouraging signal for the upcoming United Nations COP28 climate summit, but only if the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters follow up on their words with actions. 

If the two countries don’t make big emissions cuts soon, the world is likely to quickly heat well beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement, new research shows. But the joint statement from China and the U.S. released late Tuesday does not mention fossil fuels as the root of the climate problem. That strikes activists and many energy analysts as a key omission that enables governments to pursue contradictory climate policies, as noted by climate journalist and activist George Monbiot.

But if cooperation between the U.S. and China leads to some real progress toward reducing emissions, it could benefit the larger COP process, where it has been cumbersome and time-consuming to find consensus among nearly 200 countries for minor side agreements, and almost impossible to do so for controversial topics like a fossil fuel phaseout, said Aaron Thierry, a social scientist at Cardiff University

As a result, he said, some international climate policy analysts have started discussing the need to create bilateral treaties between some of the big players to begin making real progress on cutting emissions.


PHOTO: A large screen outside a shopping mall in Beijing shows news coverage of the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday, after China and the United States released a joint statement of cliimate cooperation. Credit: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images