Cities, states, and provinces from the world’s biggest superpowers — and by far the world’s biggest carbon emitters — just pledged to reduce their carbon emissions at a summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
The pledges vary widely by locality. California officials reiterated pledges to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and generate a third of the state’s electricity from renewable resources by 2020. Phoenix pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over a 2005 baseline and create the largest municipal fleet of alternative fuel vehicles in the country. Carmel, Indiana, will add 30 new roundabouts, which decrease car emissions and electricity for traffic lights. That city will also reduce its overall emissions by 40 percent by 2040. Other participating places include Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Houston, Salt Lake City, Lancaster (California), New York, Oakland, Des Moines, Miami Dade County, Phoenix, and San Francisco.
The 11 Chinese cities participating in the pledges, the “Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities,” will all peak their emissions by 2030, in line with national targets. Some, such as Beijing, Zhenjiang, and Guangzhou, will reach that goal a full decade earlier — by 2020.
“Last year was a year for setting goals and targets,” White House Senior Adviser Brian Deese told reporters on a call Monday night. “This year needs to be a year of implementation, and a year when our two countries demonstrate our commitment.”
In November 2014, Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping made the Joint Announcement on Climate Change, a historic agreement that could keep 640 billion tons of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere this century. China pledged to double its renewable energy generation and peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not earlier. The United States pledged to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the guidelines of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, released in August, is one way the United States seeks to achieve its goals. China, for its part, has been full steam ahead on developing renewable sources of energy. One recent state report suggested that by 2050, China could get 85 percent of its electricity from resources such as wind and solar.
Small changes in China’s energy mix can mean broad carbon reductions. In the first four months of 2015, China’s coal use fell almost 8 percent from the previous year. This 8 percent reduction is roughly the same as all the carbon dioxide emissions from the United Kingdom over the same period.
But pivoting from national pledges to on-the-ground reductions is an important component of achieving the targeted national goals. Actions like the ones taken this week at the U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Los Angeles could demonstrate to the world that the two biggest carbon emitters are serious about climate change.
The Chinese localities participating in the commitments account for a quarter of China’s urban emissions. These cities emit about 1.2 gigatons of carbon each year — an amount roughly equal to the total emissions of Brazil or Japan.
The new alliance of cities “highlights the fact that the country as a whole is moving to achieve its national target as soon as possible,“ Deese said.
The commitments also could strengthen the pathway to a multinational agreement at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris in December. Reaching a strong climate treaty in Paris is widely seen as a necessary step towards keeping emissions low enough to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
The summit, where Vice President Joe Biden and a special representative from China will both speak, occurs against the backdrop of increasingly strained U.S.-China relations in other arenas. President Xi is set to visit the White House this month.