US, China carbon deal brings hope for climate change policy

The world’s two largest carbon emitters have signed a deal to lower their carbon emissions. In doing so, the United States and China revealed that they had been conducting secret climate negotiations. Together, the two countries are responsible for nearly half of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

It is the largest commitment to tackle climate change in the over two decades that global climate negotiations have been happening. The deal comes during a state visit by US President Barack Obama to China. Speaking during the announcement, he said: “As the world’s largest economies and greatest emitters of greenhouse gases we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change.”

The US target of a 28% reduction was “ambitious but achievable”. He said he hoped this would “encourage major economies to be ambitious” in setting their own targets. Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country would peak its emissions by, or before, 2030.

To achieve this, China would need to build up to 1 000 gigawatts of renewable and nuclear energy capacity. This would exceed its coal power generating capacity. China and the US have been criticised for not doing enough to tackle climate change. Both refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the first global plan to lower carbon emissions.

The European Union, which traditionally drives global climate policy, said last month that it planned to reduce carbon emissions in its members states by 40% by 2030.

The announcements come in the run up to the COP 20 meeting in Lima in December. Global climate negotiations are supposed to come up with a legally-binding way for all governments to tackle climate change by 2015. This is meant to be signed at COP 21 in Paris next year, and will come into force in 2020.

Christina Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, said the agreement between China and the US signalled “an increasingly positive determination towards addressing the climate change challenge”.

But US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already said the plan was “unrealistic” and would be blocked now that his party had the majority.

Figueres said the US and China decision boded well for an agreement being signed at COP 21, she said. Before that countries will have to declare what their national plans are to lower emissions. South Africa pledged at the 2009 Copenhagen conference to lowers it emissions by 42% by 2025. But this is not binding, and depends on funding and similar ambition by other countries.

The UN’s climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in its 2014 report that temperature increases needed to be kept below 2°C for life to continue without too much disruption. The global climate negotiations are seeking to lower carbon emissions so as to slow the rate of global warming.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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