China and US agree to ‘accelerate substitution’ of fossil fuels

China and the United States have renewed their commitment to work together to address the climate crisis. 

In the Sunnylands Statement, the world’s two largest climate polluters backed the G20 goal of tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030. As part of this, they intend to “accelerate the substitution of coal, oil, and gas generation” in their own economies and “thereby anticipate … absolute power sector emission reduction, in this critical decade of the 2020s”.

The climate statement was released on Tuesday 14 November Washington time. The New York Times suggested it may emerge as a “bright spot” from a visit to the US by President Xi Jinping that included talks with President Biden on a range of challenging issues – their first in-person meeting in a year.

The agreement does not include a promise by China to phase out its use of coal or to stop building coal-fired power plants, which has been a sticking point in months of discussions between the countries, the Times noted. 

Both sides have agreed to restart formal climate change talks and relaunch a working group on enhancing climate actions in the 2020s. The group will focus on energy transition, methane, circular economy and resource efficiency, low-carbon cities, and deforestation. It will exchange information on policies and technologies to control and reduce emissions.

In August 2022, the visit by former House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan resulted in the suspension of China–US climate cooperation. The working group relaunch marks the normalisation of the climate relationship between the two countries, Reuters comments

The Sunnylands Statement, which has come two weeks before delegates from nearly 200 countries attend COP28 in Dubai, states that China and the US will: “develop their respective methane reduction actions/targets for inclusion in their 2035 NDCs”, which refers to national climate action plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions). In their COP26 joint statement, the two countries said they intend to communicate these 2035 NDCs in 2025. The US, along with over 150 other countries, has committed to cutting methane emissions by 30% by 2030, but China has so far not joined. 

Last week, the Chinese government released a long-awaited national methane plan, but this does not specify a target for the total methane emissions to be avoided. Nor does it include any timelines.

In their statement, China and the US invited all countries to participate in a summit at COP28 on methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

Read China Dialogue’s recent analysis on China’s climate diplomacy in a turbulent world.