The world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases agreed on Wednesday to do more to fight climate change, but the specific steps they settled on were far from ambitious.
Chinese and U.S. officials, including heavy hitters such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, are meeting in Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual two-day talkfest at which senior figures have a chance to share their concerns and look for common ground.
In principle, at a time when the two countries’ relationship is under strain from rock-hard security issues like cyber-spying and spats between China and its neighbors in the surrounding seas, environmental questions could provide one arena where both sides are able to find some welcome agreement.
As luck would have it, the sun shone on the summit, but repeated bouts of choking air pollution over the last two years have ensured that environmental issues are now taken seriously in Beijing.
China and the U.S. agreed on Wednesday to adopt tougher fuel efficiency standards, look at ways to make industrial boilers more efficient, and conduct demonstration projects on carbon capture and smart electricity grids.
The issue of climate change came up, at least briefly, at each of the three meetings between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama last year. In fact, an agreement to reduce the production and consumption of pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons–or HFCs–was one of the few substantive achievements from the much-hyped Sunnylands summit in California last year.
HFCs are highly potent greenhouse gases, and phasing them out could avoid half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century, according to Melanie Hart of the Center for American Progress, a left-of-center think tank.
Last year’s agreement was hailed by environmental groups as a breakthrough, though details have yet to be worked out. But so far, this summit hasn’t provided anything comparable.