Climate negotiations between the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters this week ended with intentions for the US and China to collaborate on phasing down coal consumption and boosting the deployment of renewable power.

The “in-depth” and “substantive” discussions spanned an array of issues, including technical sessions on addressing the potent planet-warming gas methane, the energy transition and subnational action to contend with global warming, said John Podesta, the US senior adviser to the president for international climate policy.

“We have to get the climate problem under control, and there are no more important countries than the US and China to lead the way,” Podesta told reporters Friday. “Even as our overall relationship between our two countries has increasingly been characterized by fierce competition, we have an obligation to our citizens and the people of the world to communicate, cooperate and collaborate where we can to tackle the climate crisis.”

The two days of talks — including a Wednesday evening dinner at Podesta’s home — brought together the top US climate negotiator and his Chinese counterpart, Liu Zhenmin. The sessions were the first extensive, in-person meetings since both men took the roles earlier this year and ahead of the global COP29 summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November. 

The discussion came against a backdrop of simmering trade tensions, and as President Joe Biden prepares to unveil plans for China tariffs first imposed in 2018, including targeting key strategic sectors such as electric vehicles with new levies. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that Chinese excess capacity and record exports of green technology are distorting the global economy. Liu has countered that efforts by the US and European Union to stem China’s dominance risk slowing the fight against climate change. 

Issues around overcapacity in the Chinese economy were discussed, including in steelmaking and the country’s still-expanding fleet of coal-fired power plants, said a senior administration official, speaking anonymously to provide more details on the private talks. There was in-depth discussion on how China could seriously consider slowing its construction of new coal plants while still meeting domestic power reliability goals, the official said.

Talks also touched on solar panels and batteries, potential targets for new US tariffs. US officials reasserted that flooding global markets with artificially cheap clean-energy products undercuts clean- energy manufacturing in other countries, further concentrating supply chains in China and threatening good-paying jobs in the US and beyond, the official said. 

The discussions included a shared commitment to promote bilateral cooperation and build capacity to measure and limit emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, in order to achieve “significant” reductions this decade, the US State Department said Friday.

The two countries also welcomed a commitment reached in December at UN climate talks in Dubai to ensure that the next round of emissions-cutting pledges are economy wide, cover all greenhouse gases and are aligned with what’s necessary to keep warming from exceeding 1.5C, a key tipping point.