The first meeting between the Chinese and American leaders since Joe Biden took office fittingly involved climate change, fundamentally a graver issue in the long term for the two most influential nations and the world than the Covid-19 pandemic. The US president called the virtual summit to coincide with Earth Day to prove his country’s commitment to the 2015 Paris accord, which he rejoined in February, reversing a decision by predecessor Donald Trump. The participation of the United States is critical to the global goal of reducing carbon emissions so temperatures may be lowered by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. But as President Xi Jinping said in his speech, preserving nature and protecting the environment requires a people-centred approach in which governments shoulder their responsibility. Biden’s confrontational policy towards China would not seem to make cooperation for the two biggest greenhouse gas-emitters possible. But differences have been set aside in recognition of the seriousness of the threat with both governments pledging ahead of the summit to work together. Global climate summit: US sets target for 2030; China offers no new commitments The scientific evidence is overwhelming that global warming is real and behind worsening storms, floods, droughts and fires that threaten lives and livelihoods. Biden said in his remarks that to prevent disaster, “we have to take action, all of us”. The US failed to do that for four years under Trump, so the current American leader’s commitment to a 50 to 52 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 over 2005 levels and to attain a zero-carbon goal before 2050 is welcome. So, too, are other notable pledges from Japan, the European Union, Britain and Canada. China has already made far-reaching promises, so there was no need for Xi to put forward new targets; he vowed last year that carbon dioxide emissions would peak by 2030 and carbon neutrality attained by 2060. The technology does not yet exist for the goals laid out to be met, so China and the US, with the know-how, financial resources and capacity, have a key role. China bars fossil fuel projects from green bonds in step towards global standards There has to be collaboration, so there is every need for a full resumption of people-to-people contacts. That would also mean an end to the finger-pointing that marks ties. Biden alluded in his speech to Beijing needing to pledge even more aggressive climate change goals and Xi made a subtle dig at Washington’s flip-flopping by stressing the importance of countries sticking to their commitments. Countries need to set their own course; it is not up to one government to dictate terms to another. Together, China and the US can use their technological and financial advantages to help less well-off nations produce energy cleanly so that Xi’s vision of people and nature living in harmony can be realised.