United States and China reach landmark carbon emissions deal

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Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have agreed a deal on cutting emissions into the 2020s     [Source: Greg Baker/AFp/Getty Images The Guardian]

The big news this morning is that the US and China have unveiled a “secretly negotiated deal” to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025. China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its emissions by 2030 or earlier if possible, and has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-carbon sources to 20 per cent by 2030. The US has pledged to cut its emissions 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Barack Obama said the deal was an “historic agreement”. China’s premier, Xi Jinping, said the US and China had agreed to make sure a global climate deal is reached in Paris next year.

  • Under the deal the US committed to a cut in carbon emissions of between 26% and 28% on 2005 levels by 2020.

This represents an acceleration of its existing goal to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020. For comparison the European Union has already endorsed a binding 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030.

  • China said it “intends” to start cutting carbon emissions in 2030 and make “best efforts” to peak emissions before 2030.

It also agreed to increase the share of non-fossil fuels energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.

  • The UN has welcomed the deal claiming it increases the chances of a meaningful global deal in Paris next year.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged other countries to make ambitious climate commitments.

Here at co2balance we would be of the opinion that for all the wiggle room in the language of the US-China deal, it could prove a “watershed” moment. First off in terms of climate justice, it is important to remember the concept of the cumulative emissions. If global greenhouse emissions stopped today (which is impossible), the US would have produced 30 per cent and China 7-8 per cent of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. On the basis of equity it is just that the US should make reduce emissions earlier than China. It looks as if there has been some progress on this front, which in the past has been a major stumbling block.

The US and China are the world’s two biggest economies and showing that they will play their part in reducing emissions is essential to getting an international agreement at the next round of the big climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015. This US-China deal can only improve the prospects. Moreover, China’s plan starting on a path of renewable development, so that it can transition from fossil fuels as quickly as possible without damaging economic growth — lays out a model for emerging economies such as India, Brazil, and Indonesia to follow. Likewise, the U.S. is sending a message to countries, and their pro–fossil fuel governments in Russia, Canada and Australia, that they are serious about putting climate at the center of international relationships. To those of you who are cynical about international climate change negotiations (with good reason to be) it is important to remember that although this deal strikes of rhetoric, rhetoric on its own can sometimes be a good thing. Rhetoric without action is the problem. Lets hope that this rhetoric leads to action. One can only hope.

With the EU, China and US announcing their mitigation commitments half of the world’s GDP is now reorienting itself towards decarbonisation. This announcement demonstrates that both the US and China understand the importance of an international agreement on climate change to securing their national interest. This provides a game changing moment for the prospects of an ambitious international climate agreement in Paris next year.

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