Combatting Climate Change: Analyzing the United States’ and China’s Agreement

5 Dec

By Aisha Iqbal, PISA Staff Assistant

After declaring climate change “one of the greatest threats facing humanity,” US President Barack Obama announced a joint effort by the United States and the

People’s Republic of China to reduce carbon emissions within both countries. Given their roles as the largest and second-largest carbon polluters in the world, this announcement signified a new precedence for global environmental policy, one in which cooperation is viewed as a powerful tool. According to a New York Times article, a senior official from the Obama administration stated that while “The US and China have often been seen as antagonists,” within the climate debate , the ushering in of the joint program can result in “a new day in which [the two countries] can act much more as partners,” towards developing greener economies.

President Obama and President Xi Jinping, with their delegations, meet inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Credit Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Obama and President Xi Jinping, with their delegations, meet inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Credit Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The success of the cooperative measure is contingent on work done within both countries over the next decade. In a press release, the White House indicated that the U.S. plans to reduce its carbon emissions “26%-28% below its 2005 level by 2025,” while China plans on “achieving its peak CO2 emissions by 2030,”with an increase of its non-fossil fuel shares to 20% of primary energy consumption. With the establishment of the US-China Climate Change Working Group, in charge of initiatives on “vehicles, smart grids, carbon capture, utilization and storage, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas data management,” both countries aim to build up their respective renewable energy capacities in order to meet the targets. Further action will be undertaken through the creation of the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, responsible for creating carbon capture and storage technologies.

Though the announcement was hailed by many as a progressive step towards combatting global climate change, successful implementation of the long term goals remains uncertain. The major effort towards attaining the US goals will come after President Barack Obama leaves office, bringing into question whether future presidents will have similar zeal to act against climate change. A recent Politico article emphasized that no significant legislation on the issue is expected in the next two years, especially with a Republican Congress.

In the case of China, it is implementation of legislation that is seen as problematic. A revised environmental protection law, passed in January, calls upon provincial and local leaders to be held accountable for whether or not both economic and environmental targets are met. There is still a large discrepancy in carbon emissions among the different regions, based entirely on the relative economic growth experienced in each area. Many of the poorer regions, situated in the western half of the country, have not experienced the same level of development and thus, for many local government officials, “GDP growth still trumps environmental protection.” For the Chinese officials, it becomes imperative to find a balance between its high energy demand for economic development and a growing concern over the environmental conditions. For the two countries, experts point to greater investment in renewable energy as a means of fueling both economies. As large trading partners, greater cooperation in the energy sector can usher in a new era of green economic policymaking on a global scale


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