Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Obama have struck a deal to limit greenhouse gases, with China committing for the first time to cap carbon emissions and Obama unveiling a plan for deeper U.S. emissions reductions through 2025.
China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, pledged in the far-reaching agreement to cap its rapidly growing carbon emissions by 2030, or earlier if possible. It also set a daunting goal of increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030.
Obama announced a target to cut U.S. emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the first time the president has set a goal beyond the existing 17 percent target by 2020.
The announcement capped a trip that also resulted in steps to cut tariffs on technology products, adopt warning measures to reduce the chance of accidental military conflict and ease visas.
The two countries together account for about 45 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and their commitments are likely to energize talks underway to set new post-2020 targets when climate negotiators meet in Paris in December of next year.
Obama at a joint news conference:
“We have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change. Today, I am proud we can announce a historic agreement.”
Meeting the goals will be difficult for both countries.
China completes a new coal plant every eight to 10 days, and while its economic growth has slowed, it’s still expanding at a rate of over seven percent.
The scale of construction in China to reach this goal is staggering, even for Chinese standards. It must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generating capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-powered power plants in China today and close to the total electric generating capacity of the United Stats.
Speaking of the red, white and blue, Obama faces stiff competition on climate issues from Republicans, who want to use their control of Congress in 2015 to curb the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit carbon emissions from power plants, a key part of Obama’s climate action plan.
To meet its target, the United States will also have to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005 to 2020 to 2.3-2.8 percent between 2020 and 2025.
That doesn’t deter either entity. Both Xi and Obama have made climate measures a priority.
The announcement is the culmination of years of change in attitudes among a Chinese population that’s fed up with dire levels of pollution that a study in British medical journal the Lancet blamed for 1.2 million deaths in 2010 alone. China has cap-and-trade pilot programs in five provinces and eight cities. It’s also the world’s largest investor in solar and wind energy.
Moreover, it has barred coal-plant construction in some regions. Such construction has dropped from over 90 gigawatts in 2006 to 26.5 gigawatts in 2013, according to the World Resources Institute.
This could undercut U.S. critics who have said that limiting greenhouse gasses is pointless while China refuses to join such efforts. And it could quiet those who have argued that carbon emissions should be measured on a per capita basis or by improvements in energy intensity.
Phil Sharp, Resources for the Future president:
“It is imperative that these two countries — the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses — show real leadership. This is an important start. Agreements like this are more important than they appear at first glance, because in both countries there are political factions that justify inaction by pointing at the failures of the other country.”
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that “this unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs.”
McConnell isn’t alone in criticizing the deal among the Republican party. Sen. James Inhofe called the pledges by Obama and Xi “hollow and not believable,” and suggested that the agreement was tilted in China’s interest.
“The United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything.”
Worldwide, the pact was widely praised. Leaders of the European Union said the new commitments by China and the United States provided an important boost to negotiations on a global climate treaty in late 2015.
Christiana Figueres, the European Union’s top climate change official:
“These two crucial countries have today announced important pathways towards a better and more secure future for humankind.”
Source: Washington Post