Secret Talks Yield Landmark US-China Climate Change Agreement
The United States and China agreed on Wednesday to an ambitious action plan to combat climate change, the result of secret high-level communications between the two countries over the past nine months.
The New York Times reports the negotiations included a letter from President Barack Obama to Chinese President Xi Jinping proposing a joint approach to the common problem of climate change.
The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies, as well as the planet’s leading greenhouse gas emitters.
The historic agreement was announced by Obama and Xi in Beijing on Wednesday. It includes new targets for reductions in US greenhouse gas emissions as well as a first-ever commitment by Beijing to halt the increase of those emissions by 2030.
Under the plan, the US will reduce its global share of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. That’s a significant reduction from the 17 percent cut previously promised by Obama.
China, a rapidly developing nation of 1.35 billion which relies upon continued construction of coal-fired power plants to fuel its growth, did not commit to any specific emissions reductions. But Xi set a goal of no further emissions increases after 2030, or earlier if possible. He also vowed to diversify China’s energy sources beyond fossil fuels.
The agreement marks a surprising and unprecedented shift by China, which like the United States has been reluctant to agree to such aggressive action.
“This is a major milestone in the US-China relationship, and it shows what’s possible when we work together on an urgent challenge,” President Obama said in Beijing.
Ken Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, DC, said the deal is “not business as usual.”
“This is not ideology. These are serious commitments, and that is just a sea change from what we’ve been able to do,” Lieberthal told the Los Angeles Times.
Lieberthal added that if the agreement is honored and if other countries agree to equally ambitious emissions cuts, the earth would be on the road to “a straight path to 80 percent reductions in emissions over 2005 levels by 2050.”
“This is, in my view, the most important bilateral climate announcement ever,” former White House and Department of Energy official David Sandalow told the Associated Press. “It sends the signal the two largest emitters in the world are working together to address this problem.”
Environmental groups applauded the news of the unexpected deal.
The US and China “account for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; there’s no two other countries that can have that big an impact on climate emissions,” said Jake Schmidt, director of international programs for the Washington, DC-based Natural Resources Defense Council.
“They’re also the two largest economies in the world, so they shape how the market invests,” Schmidt told Bloomberg. “They’ve also been two of the most difficult players in the history of the climate negotiations so the fact that they are coming out and saying they are going to take deep commitments will be a powerful signal to the rest of the world.”
Obstacles remain despite the optimism surrounding the deal’s announcement. It remains unclear how either country can achieve the agreement’s goals, and Obama is sure to encounter dogged resistance from the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress. Many leading GOP lawmakers — including likely soon-to-be Senate Environment Committee chairman Jim Inhofe — don’t even believe human activity is responsible for climate change.
In his 2012 book, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” Inhofe reiterated his belief that man-made “global warming is a hoax.”
Inhofe doubled down on his assertion, which is roundly rejected by fully 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists, by adding that “global warming can be beneficial to mankind.”
While Republicans have vowed to fight efforts by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the targets set in the newly-announced deal can likely be implemented without congressional action.