China and U.S. Played Key Roles in Reaching Cancun Agreements

China and the U.S., the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, played key roles in the Cancun Agreements, the pact on climate change that nearly all the world’s nations just adopted here in Mexico.  Both countries have worked hard in Cancun to set a positive tone in their public statements and avoid the fingerpointing that has plagued earlier climate conferences.   As late as yesterday, however, the two countries were still at loggerheads in the negotiating room, both insisting that the other country move forward first on their top issues.  This impasse could easily have led to another climate deadlock and jeopardized the future of the entire UNFCCC process as well as the future of our planet.  Yet in the final hour, under the leadership of Mexico, both countries managed to achieve a compromise that enabled the world to move forward in the fight against climate change.

In a briefing for NGO representatives on Friday, Minister Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, told us that progress on financing of climate mitigation and adaptation was an essential first step to show the sincerity of developed countries and build mutual trust.  He also said that China would not support a deal until a basic agreement had been reached on technology transfer and continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.  In a similar briefing for NGOs, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing told us that the United States would only agree to the details on climate financing if countries agreed to a similar level of detail in reporting progress in reducing emissions.  He also said that the U.S. wanted the emission reduction pledges made in Copenhagen to be anchored in an agreement in Cancun.   Even though it’s common for negotiators to stand firm until the last minute, it was not at all clear that these two key countries were going to be able to find common ground.

In the final day of negotiations, the U.S. and China seem to have heeded the call of Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, the COP President, to negotiate in a spirit of compromise in order to reach a balanced agreement.  The result, in the Cancun Agreements, is a series of visionary yet practical principles that represent real progress in the fight against climate change (as detailed by my colleagues Alvin Lin and  Jake Schmidt). In the end, neither the U.S. nor China got everything they wanted, but they put aside national differences in order to work together, as Chinese and US civil society did last week in our own agreement for long –term cooperation.   We hope that the results here in Cancun will signal a new way forward for the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters to work together to cope with our global climate challenge.