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U.S.-China Sunnylands Statement Shows Renewed U.S.-China Climate Commitment Ahead of COP 28


On 14 November 2023, the U.S.-China agreed on the Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis. The Sunnylands Statement is a significant announcement showing renewed U.S. and China commitment to climate leadership ahead of COP 28 and beyond, including hosting with the UAE a Methane and Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases Summit at COP 28.

The Sunnylands Statement is an important additional step to implement the climate architecture that President Biden and his climate envoy John Kerry articulated at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in April 2023: fast action to keep the 1.5°C guardrail in sight and make this decade the decade of action with a focus on mitigation strategies that can cut warming the most in the shortest time including methane, HFCs, and other non-CO2 climate pollutants. The non-CO2 super climate pollutants together are responsible for nearly half of historic warming, and, if cut quickly, can avoid 4 X more warming at 2050 than decarbonization alone.

Importantly, the Sunnylands Statement paves the way for U.S.-China engagement and cooperation on key climate priorities in the run-up to COP 28 and beyond. The “Sunnylands legacy” includes the meeting in 2013 between President Obama and President Xi which helped build the consensus needed to adopt the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on HFCs in 2016 and chart a path toward eventual HFC phaseout. In the same way, the Sunnylands Statement reflects a “start and strengthen” approach to address the climate crisis.

At the 15 November 2023 meeting between President Biden and President Xi Jinping, “[t]he two leaders underscored the importance of working together to accelerate efforts to tackle the climate crisis in this critical decade. They welcomed recent positive discussions between their respective special envoys for climate, including on national actions to reduce emissions in the 2020s, on common approaches toward a successful COP 28, and on operationalizing the Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s to accelerate concrete climate actions.”

To realize the potential of the Sunnylands Statement to address the climate emergency, there is still a massive amount of work to be done. The Statement identifies opportunities for further understanding and ambition-strengthening actions in these top two GHG-emitting countries, including on the energy transition from fossil fuels, the mitigation of methane, HFCs, nitrous oxide and other non-CO2 climate pollutants, the development of resource efficiency and a circular economy, the synergistic control of GHGs and other air pollutants, on climate cooperation at the subnational level, and on combating deforestation.

Aside from action adopted at the national and subnational levels, the Statement underscores the role of multilateralism in solving the climate crisis. It echoes the provisions on strengthening global methane governance and cooperation in the China Methane Emissions Control Action Plan (IGSD translation, here). It also points to the importance of international advocacy, including discussions at the upcoming COP 28 Methane and Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases Summit (paragraph 22, Sunnylands Statement) and other activities that can build the foundation for developing a mandatory global methane agreement.

In the Sunnylands Statement, the U.S. and China commit to include actions/targets to address economy-wide emissions of all GHGs in their 2035 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In this regard, recall also that the U.S. and China mentioned that “[b]oth countries intend to communicate 2035 NDCs in 2025” in the U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s (10 November 2021). It is useful to keep in mind, in light of the intention reflected in the Joint Glasgow Declaration and the commitments in the Sunnylands Statement, that the year 2035 is not when the two countries will “commence” action on the goals reflected in these sections. We also note that the year 2035 is a transition point when the U.S. and China have undertaken to complete respective, major transformations (including the Biden Administration’s ambitious goal of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector) relevant to the Sunnylands Statement commitment to include all GHGs in their NDCs and reflect reductions aligned with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.

Additional IGSD and IGSD partner China Briefings: