US and China reach “game changing” agreement on climate change

Intro

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced what is being described as a “gamechanger” for the climate on Wednesday when they revealed that the world’s two biggest economies and greenhouse gas emitters will partner closely on a broad-ranging package of plans to fight climate change. The US announced it will reduce its carbon emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 -nearly doubling its current plans. The US plans to do this without imposing new restrictions on power plants or vehicles. For the first time ever China has set a date – 2030 – for when it plans to “peak” its emissions and begin decreasing how much carbon pollution it emits. China also pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to around 20 percent by 2030, from less than 10 percent in 2013. While this goal is historic it could still be improved upon, as one expert says this pushes China just a little further than “business as usual.” Still, this surprise announcement between Obama and Xi looks to “inject momentum into the global climate negotiations” with all signs pointing to a global agreement coming together in Paris in 2015. The announcement comes on the eve of the G20 meetings in Australia, where the host nation tried and failed to bury climate change on the agenda when clearly nations like the US and China feel it should be prioritized.

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RT @collinrees: Big-time #climate deal between U.S. & China – MUCH earlier than expected, & more ambitious http://t.co/3IiRaHnIBH

Key Points

  • US commitments to cut emissions and Chinese commitments to cap emissions in 2030 are a “gamechanger” for climate change. The US’s commitment to cut its emissions by up to 28 percent of 2005 levels in ten years doubles its current efforts. China’s commitment to cap emissions by 2030 is the first of its kind. Together the cuts keep alive the hope that the world’s warming can be contained to just 2 degC and show the rest of the world that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters are getting serious about cleaning up their acts.
  • No longer does the argument that the world shouldn’t act on climate change because China isn’t hold water, China is serious about climate change.  Based on its economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution, China introduced the National Plan to Cope with Climate Change (2014-2020), which includes new goals to grow wind to 200 GW (grid-connected capacity) and solar to 100 GW (installed capacity). China’s coal consumption dropped this year for the first time this century, while economy grew by 7.4 per cent. As Premier Li pointed out, “Addressing climate change is in synergy with energy saving and emission reduction, and is the common responsibility of humanity.”

  • This latest step between the US and China to fight climate change is certainly a gamechanger, but there’s still a long way to go.
    Carbon emissions need to drop to zero by 2100, according to the most comprehensive report on climate change. And many NGOs say that the world has to phase out fossil fuels and phase in 100% renewables by 2050, to keep the global warming under 2 degC. Still as one campaigner put it, these announcements “should only be the floor and not the ceiling of enhanced actions.”

Background

In a landmark agreement, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced today that the world’s two biggest economies and greenhouse gas emitters will partner closely on a broad-ranging package of plans to fight climate change. Months in the making, the deal will see the US reduce its carbon emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, while China has, for the first time, set “around 2030” as a date when it plans to “peak” and start reducing its emissions. China also pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to around 20 percent by 2030 from less than 10 percent in 2013 – a move that one expert described as only marginally further than “business as usual”, but still positive as it can be improved upon. In addition to cap and reduction targets, both countries agreed to expand funding for clean energy technology research at the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, a think tank Obama created in 2009 with Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao; agreed to launch a large-scale pilot project in China to study carbon capture and sequestration; and emphasised that they would embark upon a push to further limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons – a potent greenhouse gas found in refrigerants.Both nations also agreed on a federal framework for cities in both countries to share experiences and best practices for low-carbon economic growth and adaptation to the impacts of climate change at the municipal level. Lastly, the two nations called to boost trade in “green” goods, including energy efficiency technology and resilient infrastructure, kicked off by a tour of China next spring by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

As leaders of the APEC economies represent about 40 percent of the world’s population, approximately 54 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and about 44 percent of world trade, the announcement is a key demonstration of the willingness of world leaders to continue working towards a global deal in Paris 2015. APEC economies account for approximately 60 percent of world energy consumption and as the region becomes increasingly industrialized, and the population shifts from rural to urban areas, consumption levels will continue to rise. For this reason climate change and energy policy has been a common point of discussion during the annual meetings of heads of state and ministers from the 28 economies.In 2007, APEC leaders proposed a goal to reduce energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030. In 2011, APEC leaders set a more ambitious target to reduce energy intensity throughout the region by at least 45 percent by 2035. The agreements and commitments reached by APEC economies are held accountable through the APEC Peer Review Mechanism on Energy Efficiency. At this year’s APEC meetings the leaders are on record recognizing climate change as “one of the biggest challenges confronting the world” and are determined to “ensure that economic growth is consistent with environmental sustainability.”

For about two years now, the US and Chinese governments have been collaborating on climate.  In July 2013 American and Chinese officials met in California and announcing  joint initiatives to cut vehicle emissions, increase energy efficiency and experiment with carbon capture and storage. Later that year both nations agreed to phase out Hydrofluorocarbons. In February 2014, Secretary Kerry visited Beijing, which led to a US-China joint statement affirming that, “China and the United States will work together…to collaborate through enhanced policy dialogue, including the sharing of information regarding their respective post-2020 plans to limit greenhouse gas emission.” In July 2014, both the US and China countries agreed to adopt tougher fuel efficiency standards. Then at the end of October, when US advisor to the President John Podesta met with Vice Premier Zhang, the two countries vowed to make their cooperation in countering climate change a highlight of bilateral relations.

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Key Quotes

  • “As the world’s largest economies and greatest emitters of greenhouse gases we have special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change. I am proud we can announce a historic agreement. I commend President Xi, his team and the Chinese government for their making to slow, peak and then reverse China’s carbon emissions.” – US President Barack Obama
  • “It is a very good sign for both countries and injects strong momentum [into negotiations] but the targets are not ambitious enough and there is room for both countries to negotiate an improvement.
  • “That figure isn’t high because China aims to reach about 15% by 2020, so it is only a five percentage point increase in 10 years, and given the huge growth in renewables it should be higher.” – Tao Wang, climate scholar at the Tsinghua-Carnegie Center for Global Policy in Beijing
  • “Today’s joint announcement by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to reduce their nations’ carbon emissions is a major step forward in the global effort to solve the climate crisis. Much more will be required – including a global agreement from all nations – but these actions demonstrate a serious commitment by the top two global polluters.” – Al Gore
  • “These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change. We look forward to working with both governments to strengthen their efforts–because we are confident that both can achieve even greater reductions.” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “Now there is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action on climate change. The biggest carbon polluter on our planet, China, has agreed to cut back on dangerous emissions, and now we should make sure all countries do their part because this is a threat to the people that we all represent.” Barbara Finamore, Asia director for the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “This is clearly a sign of the seriousness and the importance the Chinese government is giving to this issue.” Barbara Finamore, Asia director for the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “The relationship [between the US and China] is tricky, but climate has been one of the areas where the two sides can and are finding common ground.” Barbara Finamore, Asia director for the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • “[The US] expects that China will succeed in peaking its emissions before 2030 based on its broad economic reform program, plans to address air pollution, and implementation of President Xi’s call for an energy revolution…. [The agreement will] inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.” White House Statement
  • “The two biggest emitters have come to the realisation that they are bound together and have to take actions together, over the past months, communications between Beijing and Washington on climate change have been carried out in a very extensive manner. This extensive engagement highlights a clear sense of collective responsibility.” Li Shuo, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace East Asia
  • “However, both sides have yet to reach the goal of a truly game-changing climate relationship. There is a clear expectation of more ambition from these two economies whose emissions trajectories define the global response to climate change. Today’s announcements should only be the floor and not the ceiling of enhanced actions.” Nic Clyde, Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior Climate & Energy campaigner
  • “This announcement comes on the same day the Australian government was found monkey-wrenching the renewable energy industry in Australia.” Nic Clyde, Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior Climate & Energy campaigner
  • “Coal is now in structural decline and responsible leaders will be preparing their communities and nations for Plan B, not leaving them swinging in the breeze so rent-seeking coal companies get a cushy landing at the cost of communities, economies and the climate.” Nic Clyde, Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior Climate & Energy campaigner


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