At first glance, the agreement between China and the United States to impose new limits on their greenhouse gas emissions looks like an effort for significant cooperation between two huge global rivals. But not everyone’s convinced that their plan will address the problem adequately.
The leaders of both countries are under conflicting pressures at home on the matter. In China, President Xi Jinping is aware of the crucial role that coal has played in driving the country’s economy, yet he’s faced with the public furor over the amounts of toxic smog in key industrial centers.
In the United States, President Obama’s environmentally progressive political base is demanding action to limit carbon dioxide emissions, but the Republican Party has just won elections that will give them control of both houses of Congress, and its leaders see any shift to renewable fuels as a threat to the country’s economy.
Nevertheless, in announcing their plan, the two men played up the idea that such a high-minded agreement could be made between two countries that have long disagreed about everything from China’s pursuit of territorial claims in East and Southeast Asia to cyber spying, human rights and trade.
China and the US spent months privately negotiating the agreement. When they announced the program on Nov. 12 in the Great Hall of the People, Obama spoke positively about the US rival, saying a powerful and flourishing China is in the US interest.
“If the United States is going to continue to lead the world in addressing global challenges, then we have to have the second-largest economy and the most populous nation on Earth as our partner,” Obama said.
Xi agreed, saying increased cooperation is necessary despite the countries’ differences. “The Pacific Ocean is broad enough to accommodate the development of both China and the United States, and our two countries should work together to contribute to security in Asia,” he said.
The fruit of their cooperation was Obama’s promise that by 2025, the US would emit up to 28 percent less CO2 than it did in 2005. Xi said China would reach its peak emissions “around 2030,” and that by then fully 20 percent of its power generation would come from renewable energy.
But some observers say that despite the import of an agreement between two great rivals, they should do more, especially China. One, Li Shuo of Greenpeace East Asia, summed it up this way in an interview with The New York Times: “[T]his should be the floor on which they work rather than a ceiling. … Based on China’s current coal consumption numbers, they can do much more.”
Li was referring to a goal agreed upon at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen under which governments would work to cut carbon dioxide emissions to levels at which the average global temperature would not rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the average global temperature before the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century.
Li said climate scientists believe Xi’s pledge to reach peak emissions by 2030, then having them decline, would not be soon enough to achieve the goal set in Copenhagen. In fact, he said, no country has done enough to accomplish that. But more should be expected from China, he said, because it is the world’s largest polluter.
Nevertheless, the very fact that China and the US could reach any kind of broad agreement on climate change probably was a fitting end to Obama’s surprisingly productive two-day visit to Beijing, a trip that hadn’t been expected to achieve much.
Besides the climate deal, Obama and Xi also agreed to a plan that would help prevent hostilities between Chinese and US warships and aircraft in waters off China’s coast, announced progress on reducing tariffs on technology products, and on a bilateral investment treaty, among other things.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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