On the road to Paris
Updated: 2015-09-05 02:54
By Amy He(China Daily USA)
People attend the UN Climate Change COP20 in Lima in December 2014. France will host this year’s conference, COP 21, also known as “Paris 2015”, from Nov 30 to Dec 11. COP21 will seek to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°Celsius. Enrique Castro-Mendivil / REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States this month is expected to include further talks with US President Barack Obama on climate change as the world’s two biggest polluting countries prepare for a UN-led conference in Paris in December to reach a global climate agreement, AMY HE reports from New York.
The news headlines called it “historic” and “ambitious”.
Supporters of the deal called it a “game-changer”, “this century’s most significant agreement”.
And the opposition, mainly Republicans in the US Congress, labeled it “terrible”, said it “changes nothing” and was a “waste of time.”
But everyone was in agreement on one word: “unexpected”. The agreement announced on Nov 11, 2014, in Beijing by US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to cut greenhouse emissions surprised the world.
Worked out after months of quiet negotiations and a letter from Obama to Xi proposing a joint approach, the agreement called for the United States to cut its 2005 level of carbon emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent before 2025. China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030, and will also aim to get 20 percent of its energy from zero-carbon emission sources by the same year.
The agreement amounted to an announcement to the world and to the nearly 200 other countries that will meet in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December: The world’s two biggest polluters were committed to climate change.
All countries attending the talks are to present to the UN their own plans for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. The goal is to put the world on track to cap global average temperatures at no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Though congressional approval is not needed for the Obama-Xi agreement, when it was announced, congressional Republicans criticized the deal and Democrats praised it.
Republican Senator James M. Inhofe, a leading global warming skeptic, called the pledges by Obama and Xi “hollow and not believable”.
Governor Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat, took aim at critics of efforts to reach climate-change agreements, saying at a climate summit in Toronto in July: “There are a lot of people out there who don’t get it. They’re asleep. They’re on the Titanic, and they’re drinking champagne, and they’re about to crash.”
At the end of March, the US submitted its plan to the United Nations to combat climate change. The US repeated its goal to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels, making best efforts to achieve 28 percent cuts by 2025.
It committed the country to doubling the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent a year on average between 2005 to 2020 to 2.3 to 2.8 percent between 2020 and 2025.
“This ambitious target is grounded in intensive analysis of cost-effective carbon pollution reductions achievable under existing law and will keep the United States on the pathway to achieve deep economy-wide reductions of 80 percent or more by 2050,” it said in a release about the plan.
The World Resources Institute praised the US plan, saying that it shows that the country is ready to lead on the climate and through its proposed steps will be able to save money and grow its economy.
“This is a serious and achievable commitment. WRI research finds that under its existing federal authority, the United States can reach its proposed target to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025,” said Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at WRI.
On June 30, China submitted its climate change goals to the UN, setting a new, loftier goal for energy efficiency.
The plan said that by 2030, the carbon intensity of China’s economy would fall by 60 to 65 percent compared with 2005. It previously had said 40 to 45 percent by 2020. And it said it would increase its share of non-fossil fuel in energy consumption to about 20 percent, and increase forest stock volume by 4.5 billion cubic meters compared to 2005 levels. “A one-thousand-mile journey starts from the first step,” China said in its INDC (intended nationally determined contributions).
Environmental advocates welcomed the development as the latest sign of China’s determination to clean up its energy sector, backing away from coal and favoring wind and solar power.
“China is largely motivated by its strong national interests to tackle persistent air pollution problems, limit climate impacts and expand its renewable energy job force,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute.
The Obama administration praised China’s plan, saying it “helps to provide continued momentum” toward reaching a climate agreement in December.
And on Aug 28, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded China’s efforts to address climate problems.
“China has already taken a hugely important global championing leadership,” he said. “Together with the United States last year, it has [made] a historic, huge impact-giving statement,” he said in a meeting with Chinese media representatives at UN headquarters.
Climate change experts interviewed by China Daily said that China’s climate goals are realistic and achievable, and said its plan was a significant step for the country and for the Paris climate negotiations.
Solidifying their goal to peak emissions is an “extremely constructive step,” said Joanna Lewis, associate professor of science and technology at Georgetown University. “I think the pledges they reported are all aggressive and will be challenging to meet each in their own way.”
Shuiyan Tang, professor of public administration at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, said, “In a way, you might say that China has a stronger national consensus about environmental protection — and even carbon emission — than in the US.
“In the US, there are a lot of conservative Republicans who almost wouldn’t even want to admit climate change,” Tang said. “So in this sense, China is stronger in terms of coming to a national consensus.”
The Paris discussions will be particularly important because it will be the first time in 20 years that all the nations in the world will strive to reach a universal agreement on post-2020 climate action.
Leading up to the Paris talks are many other meetings that will include discussions between heads of state and finance ministers. The most prominent one will be this month when heads of state attend the UN’s General Assembly meeting where climate change will be on the agenda. Xi will be attending that meeting as part of his official state visit to the US.