In what may prove to be a sign of progress for the UN Climate Negotiations in the run up to the Paris Summit next year, President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping created a global buzz when they announced a joint deal to combat climate change. This announcement, made on November 12th, comes at a crucial time as pressure is mounting on UN member states for the Paris summit next year. The timing is surprising – I would have expected the announcement to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in September or the COP20 negotiations in Peru next week. Ever since the announcement, there has been a flutter of activity – on social media, in climate circles, amongst ministers and bureaucrats. The web is awash with detailed and expert analyses of every iota of the deal and its implications. Here, I add in my own contribution to demystify this exciting and possibly even promising development.
What is it?
In a nutshell, the deal is about an ambitious program of greenhouse gas emission reductions. According to a statement from the White House press office, the U.S. will reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, with “best efforts” to hit the higher end of that range. China will have its CO2 emissions peak around 2030, “make best efforts to peak early,” and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy portfolio to “around” 20 percent by 2030.
Why does it matter?
China and the U.S. are the world’s two largest emitters of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and their cooperation is absolutely essential to the success of any global effort to scale back emissions and avert catastrophic climate change. By making this deal, these two nations are also sending a strong message to their counterparts like Australia, India or Brazil that climate change is on their list of priorities and will be a key point in bilateral relations.
What do they need to do in order to achieve it?
As The Washington Post observes, “to meet its target, the United States will need to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005 to 2020 to 2.3 to 2.8 percent per year between 2020 and 2025.” And for China: “It must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generation capacity in the United States.”
It will take massive efforts (as noted above) on the part of both these nations to live up to the expectations from this deal and not just let it be an example of political symbolism. Anyone skeptical that the Sino-U.S. announcement is without substance ought to consider that it is the culmination of nine months of secret talks and has involved leadership right up to the countries’ respective presidential offices. I continue to remain hopeful that this deal will act as a stimulant for the deadlock at the UN Climate talks and translate into something substantial next year. Until then, fingers crossed!