France And China Announce Major Climate Action Agreement

CREDIT: Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP

French President Francois Hollande, left, shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping following their joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.

Four weeks before representatives from hundreds of countries are set to convene in Paris in the hopes of hammering out an international climate deal, France and China have publicly agreed that any successful deal must include five year check-ins to assess the progress made towards achieving long-term goals.

French president François Hollande called the agreement a “historic” moment for climate action, despite falling short of the automatic strengthening of climate commitments that France had hoped to get China to agree to.

In order to keep the world below 2°C, often considered the cut-off for irreversible climate change, experts have argued that regular revisions, which would ideally strengthen international commitments and deepen emissions cuts, will be crucial to sustaining success post-Paris. According to a recent United Nations synthesis of the more than 140 national climate pledges already submitted to the U.N., the world is currently on track for 2.7°C of warming by 2100.

After a meeting Monday, Hollande and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping issued a joint statement calling climate change “one of the greatest challenges facing humanity.” Both countries also reaffirmed their commitment to shifting the world to a low-carbon path by the end of the century, and stressed the responsibility of developed nations in helping developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change, both through finance and technology.

The two countries agreed that any international climate agreement must include a full review of progress every five years — something that falls short of Hollande’s call for “upward revision of the national pledges every five years.” France had hoped to get China to agree to mandatory strengthening of emissions cuts every five years, noting that current pledges aren’t enough to keep the world below 2°C.

As a French diplomat told the Guardian in advance of Monday’s meeting, China’s position as a major economic power gives it “a leading role” in influencing how other countries approach the Paris climate negotiations.

“What we have just established here in this declaration is a likelihood that the Paris conference will succeed,” Hollande told reporters Monday. “That doesn’t mean that the Paris conference is definitely going to be a success, but the conditions for success have been laid down in Beijing today.”

Others were more subdued in their praise, with Greenpeace calling the agreement “an incremental step forward.”

“This is no time for champagne,” Jean-François Julliard, the executive director of Greenpeace France, said in a press statement. “This bilateral statement should be another springboard instead of the last word for the Paris agreement.”

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, has already promised to begin reducing its emissions by 2030, and some senior officials within the government have gone on record saying that the country’s emissions could peak even sooner than that. Still, some argue that China could be taking much stronger steps to mitigate its impact to climate change — the country’s coal use dropped 8 percent over the first four months of 2015, and senior officials recently announced that strict limits would be put in place on coal consumption in the future. As it stands, some think that China could achieve their climate commitments a full decade before 2030.