Wednesday morning, the U.S. and China reached a historic agreement on climate change to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
The world’s two biggest polluters have put their stamp on attempts to breathe new life into action against global warming ahead of international talks in Paris next year.
The action plan on greenhouse emissions as part of a “historic” pact is acclaimed by climate scientists and denounced by U.S. Republicans as a job-killer.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday’s joint announcement on the two countries’ emissions targets was a “historic agreement” and a “major milestone in the U.S.-China relationship”.
Attempts to deal with climate change, which scientists warn is approaching a potentially catastrophic point of no return, have long been stymied by the unwillingness of the United States and China to work together on the problem.
But China set a target for its greenhouse gas output to peak “around 2030”, which Obama commended as an effort to “slow, peak and reverse the course” of its emissions.
And Obama, who faces scepticism as well as outright denial about climate change in the U.S. Congress, set a goal for the United States to cut its own emissions of greenhouse gases by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
“We have a special responsibility to lead the worldwide effort against climate change,” Obama said at a joint news conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping said.
“We hope to encourage all economies to be more ambitious.”
China and the U.S., which together produce around 45 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, will be key to ensuring a global deal on reducing emissions after 2020 is reached next year.
The two countries have long been at loggerheads over global targets, with each saying the other should bear more responsibility for cutting emissions of gases blamed for heating up the atmosphere.
But after the 2009 Copenhagen Summit nearly ended in fiasco, salvaged only by a last-minute deal brokered by Obama and China’s then premier, Washington and Beijing have started to move closer towards agreement.
The World Resources Institute, a U.S.-based environmental group, hailed the Obama-Xi pact as a breakthrough.
“It’s a new day to have the leaders of the U.S. and China stand shoulder-to-shoulder and make significant commitments to curb their country’s emissions,” the institute’s president Andrew Steer said.
“They have both clearly acknowledged the mounting threat of climate change and the urgency of action.”
But while it was the first time China agreed to a target date for emissions to peak, the commitment was qualified, leaving considerable room for manoeuvre.
The European Union pledged last month to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.
The EU accounts for 11 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 16 percent for the United States and 29 percent for China.
Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Inhofe—expected to be the majority leader and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, respectively, in the upcoming Congress—were trashing the agreement in statements within hours of its announcement.
“This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” Senator Mitch McConnell said.
The agreement with China does not need congressional approval, though Republicans can and will try to stand in the way of the regulatory steps needed to actually make the agreement work.