In the past, efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions have often foundered because of disagreements between developed and developing nations over how the burden of adjustment should be shared.
If the United States can find common ground with China, it could potentially help to bridge that divide and make it easier to reach agreements with other developing nations such as India. But it was not immediately clear whether Saturday’s joint statement was a sign of meaningful progress.
“In light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts, and the related issue of air pollution from burning fossil fuels, the United States and China recognize the urgent need for action to meet these twin challenges,” the countries said in the statement. “Both sides reaffirm their commitment to contribute significantly to successful 2015 global efforts to meet this challenge.”
The two countries, which established a working group last year to tackle climate change, said they would “devote significant effort and resources to secure concrete results” by the time they meet for a strategic and economic dialogue later this year.
They also agreed to share information on their respective post-2020 plans to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
Kerry noted that the United States and China contribute around 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions and said it was “imperative” they work together to ensure that the U.N. climate summit to be held in Paris in December 2015 is a success.
“As the science that has been pouring in over the course of the last year tells us every single day, and as the facts on the ground with droughts, fires and disasters, and acidification of the ocean, and other things happening at an increased pace, it is more urgent that we join together to respond to this problem,” Kerry said at a news conference Friday.
Developing nations argue that the West bears responsibility for damaging the global environment and should bear the cost of cleaning it up.
In its pursuit of economic growth, China has inflicted enormous damage on its own environment, and greenhouse-gas emissions have risen astronomically because of the country’s dependence on coal. Nevertheless, the government in Beijing has appeared increasingly concerned about the social, economic and health impacts of pollution.
Last September, China launched a $280 billion plan to clean up its air, including limiting the use of coal and banning high-polluting vehicles. It also asked 15,000 factories to publish real-time data on their air and water emissions in an unprecedented attempt to bring more transparency to the issue.
Later Saturday, Kerry flew to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, where he is to give a speech Sunday in which he is expected to urge the global community to do more to tackle climate change.