China and the United States on Wednesday announced a rare joint initiative to deliver enhanced climate action, Beijing's longtime climate envoy told the COP26 summit.
"Both sides recognise that there is a gap between the current effort and the Paris Agreement goals so we will jointly strengthen climate action," Xie Zhenhua told reporters in a surprise announcement.
China and US are the two largest emitters in the world and together account for nearly 40 percent of all carbon pollution.
Xie said the plan would involve "concrete plans" for enhanced action this decade and that both the US and China were ready "to work on the finalisation of the Paris Agreement rulebook" at the UN climate summit in Glasgow. The countries have reached consensus at COP26 on many climate issues and are in agreement on the need to tackle methane and illegal deforestation, he added.
The nations will establish a working group to increase action in the 2020s which will meet in the first half of next year.
The announcement came as a surprise in Glasgow, where negotiators are in the midst of fraught discussions over how to accelerate measures to curb the rise in global temperatures.
A wording of the declaration that appeared online shortly after the announcement said both countries "recognise the seriousness and urgency of the climate crisis.
"They are committed to tackling it through their respective accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s," the document said.
It said the US and China considered work to slash their emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – this decade "a necessity."
The 2015 Paris accord commits nations to work towards limiting global temperature rises to between 1.5C and 2C through sweeping emissions cuts.
Xie said that China and the US had carried out 30 virtual meetings over the course of the last 10 months to come up with the initiative.
"As the two major powers in the world, China and the United States have to take on the responsibility to work together with other parties to address climate change," he said.
Last week US President Joe Biden said Chinese leader Xi Jinping had "walked away" from the climate crisis for skipping the COP26 summit.
China hit back at the time, but ties appear to have thawed ahead of long awaited bilateral talks next week.
"The release of this joint declaration shows that cooperation is the only choice for China and the US," said Xie.
Delegates in Glasgow are negotiating how to implement the Paris Agreement temperature goals, in addition to how vulnerable nations can be helped to fight climate change.
The United Nations said that all countries emissions cutting plans, taken together, were currently set to warm Earth 2.7C by 2100.
UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that the US-China accord was "an important step in the right direction."
In a tweet soon after the accord was announced Guterres said he welcomed the move by Washington and Beijing to work together to deliver enhanced climate action.
"Tackling the climate crisis requires international collaboration and solidarity, and this is an important step in the right direction," he said.
"The big significance of this is geopolitical,” said Nick Mabey, co-founder of think tank E3G. “This high-profile commitment puts pressure on both countries to move their positions to make COP26 a success."