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Speaking and Debating about the China Climate Agreement

November 16, 2014
Published in Newsletter

During his visit to China for the APEC summit, President Obama announced a deal with China that commits the US to reducing its emissions by one third by 2030 and commits China to an emissions peak by 2030. Although the agreement is non-binding, many commentators argue the agreement is significant …

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  1. Stefan Bauschard   November 16, 2014 11:19 am/ Reply

    China deal solves climate change – it spurs global momentum and republicans can’t stop it

    Holly Yan 11-12 and Matt Hoye, CNN updated 5:15 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014 “US and China reach historic climate change deal, vow to cut emissions” http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/12/world/us-china-climate-change-agreement/index.html

    Game changer for global talks?¶ Obama, who was in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, said he hopes the deal will spur other nations to tackle climate change.¶ “We hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious — all countries, developing and developed — to work across some of the old divides, so we can conclude a strong global climate agreement next year,” Obama said.¶ Xi said both sides were committed to working toward the goals before the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris next year.¶ Colorful economic summit ends with rare news conference in Beijing¶ No more excuses¶ The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions said the joint announcement is “an extremely hopeful sign” and will help get other countries on board.¶ “For too long it’s been too easy for both the U.S. and China to hide behind one another,” said the center’s president, Bob Perciasepe.¶ “People on both sides pointed to weak action abroad to delay action at home. This announcement hopefully puts those excuses behind us. We’ll only avert the worst risks of climate change by acting together.”¶ The announcement could put climate change back on the G20 agenda, said researcher David Holmes of Monash University in Australia.¶ “The announcement may mean climate will have to be higher on the G20 agenda, despite host nation Australia trying to keep it off altogether,” Holmes said.¶ “As an economic meeting, it cannot afford to ignore the restructuring of energy markets and productive capacity that will be needed to accommodate these very ambitious cuts.”¶ The goals laid out by Obama and Xi were not as ambitious as some hoped, said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund Beijing.¶ But “what’s important is that both these two large emitters are taking the responsibility to act and work together to resolve the problem, not the numbers or targets themselves,” he said.¶ The White House said the ultimate target is to “achieve deep economy-wide reductions on the order of 80% by 2050.”¶ A senior Obama administration official said the goals are “ambitious and achievable” — but U.S. domestic politics could be a challenge.¶ The official said “leading climate deniers” in the Republican party might try to stop the initiative. The official hinted that Obama could act alone if necessary.¶ “Congress may try to stop us, but we believe that with control of Congress changing hands we can proceed with the authority we already have,” the official said.¶ “This is really the crusade of a narrow group of people who are politically motivated and have made this a cause celebre, but we believe we will be successful.”¶ The Obama administration hopes to sell the plan back home by touting the anticipated savings on energy costs. The plan offers initiatives and incentives to develop more solar and wind power in both countries, the official said.

    • Stefan Bauschard   November 16, 2014 11:21 am/ Reply

      China climate deal won’t solve

      David Harsanyi, November 14, 2014, “The US-China Climate Change Deal is Terrible; Fortunately, it doesn’t matter,” http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/11/14/the_us-china_climate_change_deal_is_terrible_fortunately_it_doesnt_matter_124658.html DOA 11-15-14

      At a Beijing news conference, President Barack Obama called a new China-United States climate deal a “historic agreement.” Grist assures us that the “new U.S.-China climate deal is a game changer.” Bloomberg Businessweek concurred, explaining “why the U.S.-China emissions pact could be a climate change breakthrough.” Vox took it even further and declared, “Obama’s climate deal proves China is the biggest foreign policy success of his presidency.” (Which may be true. And sad.) The rest of the media, unsurprisingly, offered comparable takes on the deal. I guess that when you’re on the lookout for good news, any morsel will do. But there are two problems with treating the deal as big news. 1) We’re not really doing anything we weren’t going to do anyway. 2) Neither is China. Considering the players, it’s also appropriate to point out that the Obama administration plans on using Chinese-style governance to satisfy our end of the climate agreement. It’s what one-party autocracy enthusiast Thomas Friedman might call “leadership.” Specifically, though, the United States pledges to impede its own economic growth right now, in significant ways, while China will be free to continue building coal-powered plants, expand its economy and cement its place as the world’s leading polluter — perhaps even doubling its output against ours. Until 2030, that is, or some year around that time, when China’s carbon emissions are expected to peak. Specifics aren’t important. At that point, the Chinese promise that they will implement some vague action plan at some vague point in the future. All we need to do is trust them. The agreement contains no binding language requiring any goals to be met. Our president is no Scott Boras.

    • Stefan Bauschard   November 16, 2014 11:22 am/ Reply

      China will honor the deal, the US won’t

      Gwynne Dyer, 11-15-14, Breakthrough on Climate Change Action, Dyer, is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries, Gisborne Herald http://www.gisborneherald.co.nz/opinion/columns/article/?id=39452 DOA 11-15-14

      WHEN news got out that US President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping had reached an agreement on climate change, the American blogosphere lit up with negative comments. “The problem is, Obama probably means it,” wrote Jazz Shaw of the major conservative political blog Hot Air, “while China is almost certainly just yanking the world’s collective chain yet again with a bit of lip service as they seek better trade arrangements”.

      But Jazz Shaw has got it exactly backwards. It’s the United States that cannot be trusted to keep its commitments, because the American political system is mired in civil war and at the moment it is the climate-change deniers who have the upper hand. Whereas the Chinese will probably keep their word, because there are no denialists in China and the government is genuinely terrified of climate change.

      The Obama-Xi deal is not wonderful, but it is the first step in the right direction that the world’s two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide have taken together. Obama promised that the US will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 26 percent below the 2005 level by 2025. Xi promised more vaguely that China’s emission would peak by 2030 or earlier (and, by implication, then start to decline).

      That looks a bit lopsided, of course, but any deal that takes account of current realities is bound to look like that. China is still a poor country, and it is racing to grow its economy fast enough to preserve political stability. That means it has to generate a lot more energy fast.

      China is installing a great deal of clean power (around half the world’s new solar energy plants last year, for example), but just to keep the lights on it has to go on building lots of fossil-fuel plants as well — and most of them burn the dirtiest fuel, coal. Official policy is driving the number of new coal-fired plants down, however, which is one reason Xi thinks he can keep his promise that emissions will stop growing by 2030.

      Obama, by contrast, presides over an economy that is already very rich. The average American citizen still consumes twice as much energy as the average Chinese, but total US energy consumption stopped rising years ago. Cutting American energy use by 26 percent over the next 10 years is not a huge challenge.

      So the American and Chinese commitments in the new deal, while asymmetrical, are not unequal in terms of the political and economic burdens they impose. The real difference lies in the likelihood that the two sides will stick to the deal over the next 10-15 years as they have promised. China probably will. The US probably won’t.

  2. Stefan Bauschard   November 16, 2014 11:20 am/ Reply

    Deal puts pressure on India to act

    Neeta Lai, 11-15, 14, Responding to Global Climate Change, “India feels heat as pressure mounts to deliver climate change,” http://www.rtcc.org/2014/11/15/india-feels-heat-as-pressure-mounts-to-deliver-climate-target/#sthash.VG38MDyY.dpuf DOA 11-15-14

    With the United States and China unveiling a potentially game-changing bilateral deal to whittle down their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and project a united front on the global fight against climate change, India is feeling the pressure to recalibrate its domestic climate strategy in the run up to Lima climate conference next month.

    According to the Sino-US bilateral agreement, signed during US President Barack Obama’s visit to China last week, the US will slash emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025 while China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030 along with generating 20% of its energy from zero-emission sources.

    Before this, China — the world’s largest emitter — had insisted on being clubbed with `developing countries’ to sidestep reduction targets, while the US had wiggled out of minimizing its own emissions citing exclusion of developing countries from international emission norms.
    But now, with the world’s top two polluters voluntarily embracing emission cuts, expectations are also high from India, Asia’s third largest economy — which is emphasising manufacturing as the economic growth driver under the new Narendra Modi administration — to scale up its renewable energy capacity and minimize coal usage.

    • Stefan Bauschard   November 16, 2014 11:20 am/ Reply

      Deal doesn’t pressure India – it’s way off the 2 degree target

      Neeta Lai, 11-15, 14, Responding to Global Climate Change, “India feels heat as pressure mounts to deliver climate change,” http://www.rtcc.org/2014/11/15/india-feels-heat-as-pressure-mounts-to-deliver-climate-target/#sthash.VG38MDyY.dpuf DOA 11-15-14

      Sunita Narain, Deputy Director General Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based think tank, is of the view that the US-China pact shouldn’t be a worry for India. The deal was, she said: “neither historic nor ambitious, but just a self-serving agreement between the world’s two biggest polluters.” Dr. Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General CSE, told RTCC that the US and Chinese per-capita emissions would converge at around 12 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2030. This is a level of emissions which, he said, is hardly “in line with meeting the 2C temperature target mandated by the IPCC. So in a way the deal will reduce rather than increase pressure on India to pursue loftier goals on climate mitigation.”

      • Stefan Bauschard   November 19, 2014 6:10 am/ Reply

        We have to start where we can

        Adam Sobel, November 18, 2014, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is an atmospheric scientist who studies extreme events and the risks they pose to human society, CNN, Is the Climate Deal the Best We can Get? http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/18/opinion/sobel-china-climate-deal-huge/

        First, critics say the agreement doesn’t go far enough.

        The argument here is that the emissions cuts will not be enough to limit the global mean surface temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the benchmark beyond which climate change will be “dangerous,” according to the nonbinding international agreement reached in Copenhagen in 2009. The new U.S.-China agreement alone is indeed very unlikely to keep future warming below 2C.

        To achieve 2C, further cuts beyond those spelled out in the agreement will be needed. Or — or better, and — we need Earth’s climate sensitivity (how much warming we’ll get for a given level of greenhouse gas increases) not to be at the high end of the range that the best current science, with its attendant uncertainties, has it.

        The first is within the control of the world’s politicians. On the second, we all just have to hope — and we scientists have to keep working hard to try to reduce the uncertainties.

        But we have to take success where we can get it. After decades of failed climate talks — in which the U.S. was often a big part of the reason for failure and China was a big part of our excuse for dragging our feet — this is every bit the political breakthrough it appears to be.

        While it’s not enough on its own, the momentum couldn’t be more welcome after so many years of inaction and bad news. It was gratifying to see President Obama pushing the issue at the G20 summit in Australia, a country with as much denialism in its current government as the United States.

        Further, while we need goals, and 2C is an important one, we have to understand that we don’t get to give up if we miss them. If 2C is dangerous, 3C or 4C is more so. Emissions reductions that don’t get us where we want to be are still a lot better than none at all.

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