Climate

We Have A Deal: The U.S. And China Agree To Historic Emission Reduction Targets

CREDIT: AP Photo / Andy Wong

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

The United States and China, the world’s two biggest contributors to climate change, have struck a new, more ambitious deal to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping jointly announced the deal Wednesday morning, the New York Times reported. The agreement marked the culmination of nine months of quiet dialogue between the two countries, capped off in recent days by Obama’s visit to China.

The pledge commits the U.S. to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025. This builds on the current target of a 17 percent reduction below that baseline by 2020, and could actually double the pace of emission cuts set by that initial goal — from 1.2 percent a year to as high as 2.8 percent per year. The White House has actually been looking into the possibility of expanding beyond the 2020 target since 2013, and has been involved in occasional interagency meetings to that effect.

For its part, China is committing to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. China’s construction of renewable energy capacity is already proceeding at a furious pace, and this deal will require the country to deploy an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy by 2030. For comparison, 800 to 1,000 gigawatts is close to the amount of electricity the U.S. current generates from all sources combined.

“Renewable and nuclear energy accounted for 9.8 percent of China’s energy mix in 2013,” said Melanie Hart, the Director for China Policy at the Center for American Progress. “They have just promised to double that by 2030. That target will light a fire under China’s already-aggressive renewable deployments and put even stronger limits on coal and other fossil-fuels.”

Experts did tell Reuters that the emission reductions China needs to meet this deal are not too far off from the course it’s already projected to maintain. That said, the Chinese government and its officials have raised the peak goal as a possibility before, but coming from Jinping himself, Wednesday’s deal constitutes the most robust commitment China has ever made.

“It’s the agreement that people have been waiting for, for a long time,” said Jake Schmidt, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “It’s the two biggest emitters, the two largest economies, the two biggest drags on agreement over the years. For them to step up and say we’re going to take deep actions, it will send a powerful signal to countries around the word.”

Republicans and other skeptics of climate policy have long pointed to China’s reluctance to cut its emissions as a reason the U.S. should not bother either.

But the President has argued that as the world’s second-largest emitter currently, and by far its largest historically, the U.S. cannot expect other countries to act if it does not demonstrate good faith by stepping forward. Hence the suite of executive actions Obama announced in his second term to cut U.S. emissions, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently rule for power plants as its centerpiece. As such, Wednesday’s deal also marks an at least partial vindication of Obama’s strategy.

“Now there is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action on climate change,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement. “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.”

The pledge will serve as a new and more ambitious commitment for United States to bring to the international community, as countries around the world prepare for the next round of international climate talks in Paris in 2015. Meanwhile, the European Union also reached its own recent internal agreement to cuts its emissions 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030. Which means all three of the world’s biggest emitters are now on record with new commitments to get their greenhouse gas emissions under control.