US, China Climate Pledges Bring Hope, Outrage

on November 12, 2014 at 3:26 PM

U.S. President Barack Obama Visits China

A very hopeful development, maybe even a game changer – by and large, that’s how climate-change activists were  greeting the surprising news out of Beijing of cooperation between the U.S. and China on capping and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Back in Washington, Republicans, about to take control of both houses of Congress, were outraged.

In a joint announcement, President Obama said the U.S. would cut its GHG emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – about double the pace the U.S. had been targeting in the 2005-2020 period – while President Xi Jinping said China would aim to cap its emissions increases by 2030, by which time it expected to get 20 percent of its total energy consumption from zero-emissions sources.

The announcement by the U.S. and China was important for several reasons: Together they account for around 40 percent of global GHG emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists; there had heretofore been few signs of a Chinese willingness to commit to capping emissions; and it raised hope that future global negotiations might actually yield an agreement to rein in emissions enough to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Li Shuo, senior climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia, said that with the pledges, the U.S. and China had demonstrated “a clear sense of collective responsibility” to address climate change. He called the agreement “enormously encouraging.” But China, in particular, needed to act faster, he said.

“This may be the beginning of the end of China’s love affair with coal but there is still a gap between the politics and the science,” he said. “If the world wants to avoid the most damaging impacts of global climate change than China’s emission peak can and should happen much sooner.”

The Sierra Club echoed the focus on China.

“China’s new goal of producing 20 percent of its power from clean energy by 2030 is a huge step forward that signals a historic shift away from dirty fossil fuels, and could drive a new global competition for clean energy technology,” the group said in a statement.

As for the U.S. goal, the White House said it can be reached without new legislation. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan already calls for existing power plants to trim emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and the administration is looking to use the EPA to force further improvements in fuel efficiency in the transportation sector, among other measures.

The Sierra Club said the pledge made in Beijing “keeps the United States on track to cut its carbon pollution by 80 percent by 2050 … setting a high bar for future administrations,” and the Obama administration said it would submit the 2025 target to the U.N. process seeking a deal on post-2020 emissions.

But there is opposition in the U.S. How much Republicans can do to turn the regulatory tide is hard to say, but they have been vowing to do their damnedest, and the Beijing pledge left them more fired up than ever.

“This deal is a non-binding charade,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), in line to head the Environment and Public Works Committee in the new Congress, said in a statement. “The American people spoke against the President’s climate policies in this last election. They want affordable energy and more economic opportunity, both which are being diminished by overbearing EPA mandates. As we enter a new Congress, I will do everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA’s unchecked regulations.”