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David Fickling

Empty U.S.-China Promises on Climate Still Mark Progress

Cooperation between the world’s biggest emitters is a critical first step on the world’s journey to net-zero. The details can come later.

The good old days.

The good old days.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One of the enduring frustrations of decades of climate diplomacy is that the two most important nations are also the least able to deliver. Some 43% of the world’s carbon emissions in 2019 came from China and the U.S. — but in contrast to regions like the European Union, U.K., South Korea and Canada, which have all passed pollution reduction targets into law, ambitions from those countries remain more hopes than promises.

Negotiators in Glasgow aren’t even attempting to come up with a legally binding agreement, largely because they’ve long acknowledged that Washington is delinquent in such matters. Treaties in the U.S. must be ratified by a malapportioned Senate, where the swing vote and key committee chairmanship is held by Joe Manchin, who represents the coal-producing state of West Virginia. The senator signaled on the eve of the climate talks that he was prepared to block President Joe Biden’s clean electricity plan.