Experts in New Zealand believe the China-US climate pact will be a game changer.

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Climate experts in New Zealand say the surprise China-US climate cooperation pact is a game changer that might overshadow the COP26 summit’s outcomes and assist seal agreements there as well.

 

China's special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua speaks during a joint China and US statement on a declaration enhancing climate action in the 2020s during the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua speaks during a joint China and US statement on a declaration enhancing climate action in the 2020s during the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. Photo: AFP

But it is being seen as warning to New Zealand’s agricultural sector that it needs to get serious about cutting methane emissions.

In a surprise announcement the two major powers say the will work together to reduce emission – including methane – and try to keeping warming to 1.5 degrees by taking stronger actions in the next 10 years.

UN climate report author Dr Bronwyn Hayward said the agreement added hope and a sense of urgency to the COP26 talks.

“For exhausted and tired negotiators this will be just the shot of adrenaline that they need to help actually get some of the agreements over these line on some of the really difficult detail,” Hayward said.

A draft agreement from Glasgow out early this morning is being greeted as tepid and unambitious.

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With the new US China agreement it was hard to know what would survive from that text until tomorrow, Hayward said.

Having the largest powers focusing on reducing emissions quickly put welcome pressure on other countries to follow suit, she said.

“Even if, in the end, the promise doesn’t live up to what we hope, it really is an important moment.”

There had been sparring between China and the US going into the talks and there was low expectation of cooperation, she said.

Two better than 200 in climate talks – former climate ambassador

Former climate change ambassador Adrian Macey said the agreement could actually lead to concrete action.

It could even eclipse the COP26 talks with their targets, declarations and pledges, he said.

“This doesn’t require 200 countries to negotiate so it is going to be less cluttered up with all the language and complications that negotiators put in things.

“We’ll see what happens.”

Although the United States and China disagreed on trade and human rights, climate was an area where they had collective interests, Macey said.

“It’s a statement of the obvious that your two major emitters … if we don’t have those two right up with the play then we can forget about 1.5 degrees [warming target], probably two degrees, too.”

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Cooperation agreement puts NZ agriculture on notice – IPCC climate report author

Hayward said the agreement put New Zealand farmers on notice.

Until recently methane has been a low priority globally but that has changed quickly.

A pledge pulled together by the European Union and the US less than two months before COP26 to collectively cut methane by a third by the end of the decade ended up signing on more than 100 countries, including New Zealand.

Some large emitters were absent – including China which instead said it would develop a “national plan” for methane.

Hayward said that the US and China plan explicitly mentioned methane put more pressure on New Zealand’s agriculture sector.

“We are going to have to start increasing the pace of our emissions reductions in methane now that both of the largest powers … are focusing on the near-term actions in the next five to 10 years.”

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