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Frontline Online: Is the new US/China/Japan climate pact just hot air?

April 16th, 2013

by Lorna Howarth

The Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on news and action from the environmental frontline....

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s tour of Asia is not all about the growing tensions surrounding North Korea – dialogue has taken place on what some would call an even more urgent threat to international security: that of anthropogenic climate change.  

A press statement released on 13th April announced that “The United States of America and the People's Republic of China recognize that the increasing dangers presented by anthropogenic climate change measured against the inadequacy of the global response, requires a more focused and urgent initiative.”  

The following day, on the occasion of John Kerry’s meeting with Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, a similar statement was announced: “That anthropogenic climate change represents a threat to the security and economic development of all nations.” 

On the face of it, this is good news, but given how these countries have been less than committed to UN-mandated climate negotiations through the COP process in the past, is this all just more hot air?

In their press statement, the US and China made special mention of the overwhelming scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and its worsening impacts, including the sharp rise in global average temperatures over the past century, the alarming acidification of our oceans, the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice, and the striking incidence of extreme weather events occurring all over the world.   

Both sides recognized that, given the latest scientific understanding of accelerating climate change and the urgent need to intensify global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, forceful, nationally appropriate action by the United States and China – including large-scale cooperative action – is more critical than ever.  They believe such action is crucial both to contain climate change and to set the kind of powerful example that can inspire the world.  

In order to achieve this goal of elevating the climate change challenge to top priority, the two countries will initiate a Climate Change Working Group in anticipation of the 2013 Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). The Working Group will begin immediately to determine and finalize ways in which they can advance cooperation on technology, research, conservation, and alternative and renewable energy and the initiative will be fast-tracked to meet this summer. 

It is good to see that both sides also noted the significant and mutual benefits of intensified action and cooperation on climate change, including enhanced energy security, a cleaner environment, and more abundant natural resources.  It is not just about mitigating our past mistakes, but creating a better future.

They reaffirmed that working together both in the multilateral negotiation and to advance action on climate change can serve in  building mutual trust and respect, and paving the way for a stronger overall collaboration. In the light of the tensions in the Korean peninsular, to have any talk of building collaborative alliances is heartening, but in this case it is not the usual development-at-any-cost scenario: it is specifically related to climate change mitigation. Even the skeptical among us can perhaps breathe a little more easily. 

Similarly, as Secretary Kelly’s ‘climate tour’ continued, the US and Japan pledged their commitment to shared cooperation in advancing climate action too. They will hold a new bilateral dialogue, based on three pillars of cooperation: a new and ambitious, global, post-2020 international agreement to combat climate change; a deepening of their mutual engagement in advancing low-carbon growth and to cooperate in developing and disseminating knowledge related to low carbon growth through the Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership and the East Asia Low Carbon Growth Partnership; and cooperation on constructing climate-resilient societies.  

From these recent press statements it seems there is an acceptance of scientific research on anthropogenic climate change and a growing awareness that the situation is urgent and must be given highest priority. All parties agree that it is essential to enhance the scale and impact of cooperation on climate change. 

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing agency:

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Image of John Kerry courtesy of

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