On November 11, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese
President Xi Jinping announced an ambitious plan
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the Plan). In what is being
touted as a significant step forward in the fight against climate
change, the U.S. will aim to reduce its emissions by 26%-28% below
its 2005 levels by 2025. China will use its best efforts to achieve
peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 or earlier, and will aim
to increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy generation to
around 20% through clean energy investment in sources like solar
and wind. To do so will require the deployment of 800-1,000
gigawatts of clean energy, nearly equal to the entire electricity
generation capacity of the U.S.
The Plan marks the first-ever commitment by China to cap its
carbon dioxide emissions, with both sides feeling optimistic that
it will spur other countries to escalate the rate at which they cut
their own greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, the U.S. and China
are hopeful that the momentum from the Plan will foster a new
global climate deal that will be concluded at the United Nations
Climate Conference in Paris in 2015. To this end, the White House
Office of the Press Secretary released the following statement:
"The United States and China hope that by announcing these
targets now, they can inject momentum into the global climate
negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward
with ambitious actions as soon as possible, preferably by the first
quarter of 2015. The two Presidents resolved to work closely
together over the next year to address major impediments to
reaching a successful global climate agreement in Paris." As
the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, accounting for
approximately 40% of worldwide emissions, a climate agreement
between the U.S. and China has long been viewed as an essential
prerequisite to creating a new global accord.
The Plan builds on and extends the targets set by Obama under
the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, where he agreed to reduce U.S. carbon
emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. According to Secretary
of State John Kerry, the U.S. is on track to meet that goal, with
wind energy production tripling and solar energy production
increasing 10-fold since Obama took office in 2009. In order to
meet the Plan's target by 2025, the U.S. will have to double
the pace of carbon emission reductions it targeted for the period
from 2005 to 2020.
Despite the optimism, many critics have been quick to point out
that the Plan doesn't do enough to alleviate global warming.
According to the International Energy Agency's baseline
scenario, China would see its carbon emissions peak by 2030 anyway,
producing 18% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources.
Furthermore, the Plan doesn't legally bind either country
should they fail to reach their targets; there are no penalties or
enforcement mechanisms available. This has cast doubt on the
ability of both countries to reach their climate goals.
The Plan also intensifies pressure on the Canadian government,
which has faced fierce criticism over its failure to meet
international climate commitments and its promised regulations for
the oil and gas sector that have been delayed for several years.
The Harper government has long stated that it would follow the lead
of the U.S., and that it would not act on climate change unless
there were bold commitments from other major emitters. Canada now
has a lot of catching up to do should it wish to align its climate
policies with its largest trading partner.
Ultimately, the Plan represents a solid step forward on the
climate change issue, especially as it relates to the surprising
reversal of China's energy policies. With plans to cap carbon
emissions and eventually steer away from the continued development
of coal generation, many are optimistic that the Plan will pave the
way for continued progress in the near future.
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